Advancing a Free Society

When public education’s two Ps disagree

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It’s long been said that public education must achieve both public and private aims. The public, which foots the bill, has an interest in a well-educated populace. Parents—schools’ primary clients—want a strong foundation for their own children. Much of the time these two interests are in perfect alignment. But what happens when they’re not?

Recent surveys illustrate the tension. First, there was the perennial Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, which showed an ever-wider gap between parents’ (very positive) perceptions of their own children’s schools and the public’s (very negative) perceptions of American schools writ large. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the “Congressman Syndrome”—we all hate Congress but think highly of our own member of Congress. Or maybe many parents have a rose-colored view of their kids’ schools. (After all, unless you’re poor and trapped, to acknowledge that the school you’ve chosen is a lemon is to admit to a form of parental malpractice.)

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(photo credit: Rosa Say)