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Too much of a good thing can be dangerous

op frI wish those planning to open a new charter school in Haywood County the best. Their intentions are completely honorable. But I also believe that the proliferation of school choice in the U.S. is not a long-term positive for the country.

Look, it would be ludicrous to argue that the U.S. system of public education is great. There are lazy, below-average teachers, way too many uninspired central office bureaucrats (who don’t, by the way, deserve double the pay of classroom teachers), and too many parents who don’t — for any of a multitude of reasons — make school a priority for their children.

But here’s the simple truth: the situation not going to change anytime soon. Americans today aren’t going to invest what is needed to make dramatic, dazzling improvements in schools. We’re a society too self-centered, too divided politically and too easily convinced that the holy grail of education is higher standardized test scores. Kind of ridiculous, really, that we have sacrificed grammar, languages, art, drama, dance, music (except the almighty marching band) and even field trips and critical thinking exercises in hopes of raising reading and math scores a few points. 

So while you won’t hear me crowing about how great public education is, I still believe a kid with a family who cares can graduate from any public school system in this country and do well enough to get accepted to the nation’s elite universities. It just takes work, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

And there are plenty of great public school teachers doing fantastic things in the classroom.

What is disconcerting, though, is the growing movement to divert local, state and federal resources to parochial, private and even charter schools. This is not a recipe for improving education.

This isn’t a slam on any of those type schools. I understand that many students’ needs aren’t met in the large-net philosophy of public education. Freed of over-reaching regulations, many of these other types of schools do great things and help students who otherwise might slip through the cracks.

But what happens if school choice becomes the norm for most American children and their families? Here’s what would happen: we would become an even more fractured society than we are now. Perhaps this is a quaint vision, but to me the greatness of America lies in the brewing cauldron of shared dreams and ideals that are constantly reshaping and reforming. Perhaps the greatest unifying element in this mix is the public system of education. It is the place where different economic spheres mix, where ethnic and racial divisions blur, where neighborhoods and communities come together to do what’s best for their young. Look around Western North Carolina and imagine how different each small town would be without the bonding that comes from being a part of the public school system. 

I’m OK with a few charters and few private schools in each community. But I’m not OK with laws and funding formulas that give these schools a preferred status — fewer regulations, the same amount of money — that slowly takes more and more resources away from an already strapped public school system. And I definitely would fight against laws that open the door for more and more school choice until education resembled a shopping trip to the mall, each entity promising a better deal. That’s an unimaginable scenario, but I truly believe some see this as the future of education. I’m not buying it.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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