In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

The below intern blog is a commentary on education based on the article that can be found below the commentary.

Why is good education a commodity? The power of good education, we know, is monumental in developing functional citizens in society. Those in the top tiers such as presidents, lawyers and government officials are cultivated to take on those roles. It is a life long process that begins at birth. In the year 2011, it is disheartening to observe and experience the privileges that arise from attending a private school in comparison to the lack of resources, funding and time commitment in public schools.  So what needs to change? If we know the answer to that question then why are we still combating the same issues?  If it is expected that our presidents will be amongst the best educated then why are public schools not breeding presidents?

In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

by Michael Winerip

Ten years ago, the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by the House of Representatives, 384 to 45, marking the first step toward a major transformation of public education in America. The law has ushered in what its supporters like to call the “reform movement.”

For the first time, human bias was removed from student assessment and replaced with scientific accountability systems.

No longer did teachers’ subjective opinions of children distort things. Scores on standardized tests became the gold standard.

No longer did a person with a clipboard have to spend days observing a school to determine whether it was any good. Because of the law, it is now possible for an assistant secretary of education to be sitting in his Washington office and, by simply studying a spreadsheet for a few minutes, know exactly how a school in Juneau is performing.

Each year since then, researchers have found new things to assess. The New York City Department of Education, a pioneer in the science of value-added assessment, can now calculate a teacher’s worth to the third decimal point by using a few very long formulas. (No word yet on whether department researchers have developed a very long formula to assess chancellors and mayors.)

For a while it appeared that the Republicans were way ahead on the reform front, but in 2007, Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager and Democratic fund-raiser, founded Democrats for Education Reform to help his party catch up. By all accounts, it has worked. Today, the consensus is that there is little difference between President Obama and former President George W. Bush when it comes to education policy. Nor is it easy to distinguish differences between the secretary of education under Mr. Bush, Margaret Spellings, and the current secretary, Arne Duncan.

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

Your call.

Following is a list of some of these national leaders and the private schools they attended:

Senators Judd Gregg (Phillips Exeter, Exeter, N.H.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Milton Academy, Milton, Mass.) and Representative John A. Boehner (Archbishop Moeller High School, Cincinnati) were three of the four Congressional sponsors of the education legislation, which was signed into law by Mr. Bush (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.) on Jan. 8, 2002. (Representative George Miller was the fourth sponsor.)

Mr. Obama (Punahou School, Honolulu) will be remembered for his signature education program, Race to the Top. This program rewards states with hundreds of millions of dollars in grants if they develop systems to rate teachers based on their students’ test scores and if they agree to fire teachers and principals based on those scores. In contrast, Michelle Obama, who attended public schools (Whitney Young High, Chicago), has frequently spoken out against the education law’s reliance on testing. “If my future were determined by my performance on a standardized test,” Mrs. Obama has repeatedly said, “I wouldn’t be here, I guarantee that.”

Michelle A. Rhee (Maumee Valley Country Day School, Toledo, Ohio), the former Washington schools chancellor and a founder of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group, is probably the No. 1 celebrity of the reform movement. She is education’s Sarah Palin.

As governor, Mitt Romney (Cranbrook School, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) brought accountability to Massachusetts.

Bill Gates (Lakeside School, Seattle) has donated billions of dollars to public schools with the proviso that they carry out his vision of reform, including tying teacher tenure decisions to students’ test scores. In November, Mr. Gates and Mr. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory School) called on public school leaders to increase class size as a way of cutting costs in these hard times. The two men suggested that schools could compensate by striving to have an excellent teacher in every classroom. The private school Mr. Gates attended has an average class size of 16, according to its Web site. The home page says the best thing about Lakeside School is it “promotes relationships between teachers and students through small class sizes.” Mr. Duncan’s private school has an average class size of 19.

Jeb Bush (Phillips Andover), the former governor of Florida and the founder of the Excellence for Education Foundation, is responsible for making Florida a pioneer in the accountability movement by issuing report cards for every school based on test results. In the process he had to overcome many obstacles, including how to explain why his state’s rating system was so badly out of whack with the federal government’s rating system. One year the state report cards gave two-thirds of Florida’s schools A’s or B’s, while the federal system rated two-thirds of Florida schools as failing. As a result, there was widespread confusion among parents who couldn’t tell if their child’s school was succeeding brilliantly or failing miserably.