Ineffective bureaucracy, goofy ideas, burdensome union contracts, and a monopoly structure all hurt education, writes Sol Stern in Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice, this provocative screed about problems in public schools. Giving parents choices could help break the monopoly, and help kids learn. A conclusion that school reform is needed is obvious, but Stern’s analysis is less so, seemingly colored by an agenda. However, any bias matters less than the stakes, for districts and society, for families and students.
The real key may be in discussing the issue without limiting debate to false choices, as the late Paul Wellstone said. As ably shown in Stern’s account of his own household’s difficulties with the New York City public school system, which gets billions of dollars to operate, serious woes exist. But solutions seem less simple and clear than Stern says.
Funding is not the main trouble, he writes. And others elsewhere agree, finding disparities in achievement levels in race and class apart from resources. Giving everyone a choice to shop for schools could leave neighborhood schools with good teachers and able administrators but lousy surroundings in worse shape. There’s a fear that “choice” abandons the ideal of free, compulsory education shared by kids of all classes. Parochial schools, charter schools, and voucher systems like Milwaukee’s, Stern shows, can be successful....
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