Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Calling into Question the Enterprise of Public Education

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Calling into Question the Enterprise of Public Education

What the Alexandria school board's vote addressing the remainder of the academic year shows is the challenges facing public education. Some of these challenges call into question whether public education should be a governmental or private enterprise.

Alexandria schools are not strapped for resources. Taxpayers spend $15,000 per student on average, yet the school system's best response is that students completing 60% of the work (minimum passing in most grading systems, and failing in the old-style university and civil service grading systems) will be counted as 100% and failure will be ignored. The real failure is not on the students' part, but the adults in charge (the school board and umpteen layers of central office bureaucracy).

All the private schools, which run lean w/ limited administrative bureaucracy, had their children doing effective distance learning w/in a week or so of the governor's order closing the schools. $15,000 per student can buy plenty of Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops the school system already issues students. Remote training is a change with a learning and adjustment curve, but youth, even non-college bound, have much more tech savvy than adults and can adapt. Assignments can be emailed and examinations can be administered orally by telephone or Zoom. "Inconsistent internet access" I found the most questionable, as if children today don't have smartphones (for $15,000 per student, the school system could procure them for the few who can't afford them).

Public education struggles because it is both the provider and evaluator of educational services. The failure of former Governor McDonnell's attempt to set up an agency to put failing schools into state receivership shows that public education is too fraught with politics to be accountable. Large school systems may reach dis-economies of scale. Private and parochial schools do, in some places, successfully educate students from low-income households. Perhaps they are more effective because their typically smaller size makes them more adaptable with less bureaucratic overhead.

The school system's response to the challenge raised by the coronavirus closure calls into question the enterprise of public education. We should seriously consider instead a charter school or full privatization model where the government can regulate the schools to make sure they are providing a bona fide education w/o the conflict-of-interest inherent in the government overseeing and regulating a service it is ultimately responsible for providing.

Dino Drudi