North Carolina has one of the lowest-funded public education systems in the US. We are also ranked incredibly low on education quality, which I’m assuming is a result of the first statistic. All the time, folks lambast the cutting of funds to public schooling as the single worst thing to happen to public education.
The thing is, I’m a little hesitant to readily admit that the solution is to start increasing funding to public schools. If public schools are actually doing fine, then is funding them more really going to increase the quality of the education that they offer? Inner city parochial schools operate on much less funding than most schools, and their students do quite well. In the same way, small, underfunded private schools (yes, they exist, all over the state) have perfectly fine test scores. Throwing money at something doesn’t always change it.
I went to a private “prep” school from third grade all the way to graduation, so I’ll be the first to admit I’m personally not the one to ask when it comes to public school reform, but I saw in my school a lot of the same problems with students that public schools had. Even though we were very well funded (we were a prep school, in every sense of the word), we had a big number of slackoffs, even druggies. The only difference between these druggies and the ones who get busted in public schools every day is that these “prep potheads” were smart enough not to bring their stash to school and blaze it on school property. Now, there was definitely a higher percentage of students pushed into higher-level and AP classes, but why was that?
Simple. The parents.
Let’s be honest, if your parents are the type to push you academically, it’s going to show up in your grades, and you’re much more likely to take honors and AP classes. All of those students in the AP and honors classes were under tremendous pressure from their parents and even some of their peers to perform well in school. Even if school doesn’t come naturally to you, when you get double jeopardy from getting in trouble at school (aka a bad grade on a test means a whooping/grounding/lecture at home), you’re going to work your tail off to get good grades. Fortunately, this is a trend that transcends multiple races, although it’s definitely more prevalent in a few.
My mom has taught in your average public school for quite a few years now, and every year, there has been a trend among students who were close to dropping out when they turned 16 – they were all from a specific cultural group. Why was this? The culture of the students’ families valued education less than a quick entrance into the workforce. My mom explained that these students’ parents wanted them to leave school and start working a job – a primary value in these students’ families’ culture.
Not a bad thing, right? College isn’t for everyone, some people choose not to go to college and do just fine.
However, it’s the parents (and/or authority figures in the child’s life) who influence their children’s educational choices. Cultural differences dictate how much value is placed on education. These aren’t merely culturally white values. Asian families as well as many African-American families place a high value on education, and that’s fantastic. These parents will “vote with their feet” to place children in the same environment as other children whose parents value education as much as they do. They do this by refusing to put their children in state-mandated categorized schools and putting them in the charter/private/whatever schools that they believe will be conducive for their child learning to the best of their ability. That’s the key issue here, not cutting funding. When given the means and opportunity, parents who care about the education of their child will “shop around” for the best option from their point of view.