Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Schools: a community enterprise" Says PPS Doug Wells

(Doug Wells is a fellow national board member for Parents for Public Schools. He just wrote this great OpEd piece for the Oregonian)
by Doug Wells, guest opinion
Friday February 20, 2009, 9:55 AM
It is with great sadness that I read "Facing the failures of public education" by Leslie Spencer. Spencer's rhetoric makes it appear that our public schools are on the brink of failure, that we are failing our children, and that the only reasonable solution is to offer vouchers. She supports her arguments with survey data that she claims is unbiased and balanced.

But upon closer inspection, it becomes painfully apparent that the research was entirely funded by like-minded, pro-voucher institutions, the most prominent of which is the Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence (founded by conservative economist Milton Friedman, the self-proclaimed founder of the voucher movement).

In sharp contrast to the numbers cited by Spencer, the research firm of Davis, Hibbitts, & Midghall recently conducted a survey of Portlanders about the state of our public schools. Their findings show that we strongly support our public schools and the direction they are taking.

As is true in most cities, a high majority of the survey participants were taxpayers without children in schools -- mirroring our population -- yet they showed a commitment to our kids and schools and do in fact see funding as one of the major obstacles facing our public education system.

I'm sure an opinion survey can be found to support almost every point ofview, so I won't continue to dwell on the statistics. But here is the bottom line: In our country, high-quality public education is not a privilege, but an expectation, and our community has an obligation to provide high-quality education for every child. Vouchers are a quick fix for some, but they are inherently inadequate because we need long-term solutions for all children.

Community & Parents for Public Schools of Portland, a chapter of Parents for Public Schools, is not naive about the state of our schools. We are in the deteriorating buildings and overcrowded classrooms every single day.
The incredible schools, of which there are many, fuel our optimism; the bad schools fuel our tenacity and persistence.

We believe that as parents, citizens and owners of our public schools, we must take responsibility for addressing the toughest and most persistent problems facing our kids, schools and communities. We believe that public education should be a community enterprise. A community must not abandon its public schools and children in their time of greatest need.

Following the same logic, poorly performing schools must not be tolerated, period. We believe that we must unite to find solutions that work for all of our kids. This sets us apart from voucher supporters, who know that the "school choice" they clamor for cannot guarantee a good education for every child. In order to give all our children equal access to high-quality education, we must concentrate on fixing the schools that we already have. We must push for greater accountability, because if excellent schools can be provided for some students, they can be provided for all students.

When families, schools and communities work together, children succeed, and our communities grow and prosper. Together, we can make a difference.

I will also close with President Barack Obama's words from the presidential debates. "Where we disagree is on the idea that we can somehow give out vouchers as a way of securing the problems in our education system. If Senator McCain were to say that vouchers are the way to go, I disagree with him on this because the data doesn't show that it actually solves the problem."

Let's hope that Obama's words continue to shape our debate on education policy, both nationally and locally.

Doug Wells of Southeast Portland is president of Community & Parents for Public Schools.

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