Solving School Problems

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When I was growing up, my family didn’t live in the best neighborhood. My parents didn’t like the schools in my area, but they weren’t really able to leave the neighborhood, so they worked extra hard and saved the money to send me to private school. Now that I’m in college, I really appreciate that they were able to do that and to give me such a great education. But I feel terrible that my neighbors and others in the area weren’t given the same opportunities as I was. Why are some schools so much better than others in our country, and what can we do about it? I know you guys don’t get political, but I’d love some background on the problems here.

It is, unfortunately, quite true that in our country, not all schools are created equal. In poor districts, schools can spend less than $10,000 per pupil per year. In rich districts, that figure reaches nearly $30,000. In many cases, such differences exist even between school districts in the same state.

The root of the issue, experts say, is that American school districts are most typically run by local governments and funded by property taxes. The problem quickly emerges: in poorer areas, families own less and property is less valuable, which makes tax revenues lower and gives schools less money to work with.

Of course, that’s not the end of the equation. There are state and federal programs that aim to assist schools that don’t have enough. But this leads to all sorts of fraught political questions. Should the states and federal government demand that districts use the money for certain things? Should schools be held accountable in some way? Should student testing be used to assess progress, and what should the consequences be for low scores–should underperforming schools get more money, or less, or be closed entirely?

And what about private schools? Private schools have a long history and come in all shapes and sizes. They appeal to parents and students because of things like academic prestige, say counselors a Princeton, New Jersey’s Chapin School, and offer concrete benefits like smaller class sizes and individualized instruction. In other cases, private schools can give families an educational option that suits their religious preference, says administration at Convent Station, New Jersey’s Academy of Saint Elizabeth.

To some, these private schools represent a free-market solution to education that better fits the needs of students. Some politicians support using funds to send children to private schools, while others feel that this starves public schools of potentially high-performing pupils. The debate is most intense when it comes to charter schools, a type of private school that is designed to rely on government funding.

Some argue for increased privatization of education through charter schools, while others argue that the opposite should happen, and that school funding should become more centralized under the government in order to even the playing field between school districts. The debate rages on–and, hopefully, you now feel qualified to be a part of it.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela

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