Making public schools work

Charters are great, but the quality of public schools is what really matters

The author is a former teacher and school administrator who lives in Chico and writes about children and education. Her blog can be found at

The White House website quotes President Obama as being committed to “providing every child access to a complete and competitive education, from cradle through career.” He believes “investment in education must be accompanied by reform and innovation” and supports “the expansion of high-quality charter schools.”

I hope someone makes sure Owen’s and Juliet’s parents hear about the president’s commitment. One year, Owen, a first-grader, waited at the front gate the morning before the first day of school. Juliet showed up, along with other students, the Monday after the first week of school.

In an ideal world, all parents would be like Ruby’s father, a farm worker who at his sixth-grade daughter’s parent/teacher conference said, “My daughter is not going to pick vegetables in any man’s field. Ruby’s going to college. She’s going to be a doctor. I’ve bought her a desk and a dictionary. Please, tell me what else I can do.”

In 30 years in the public school system I’ve seen far too many children who don’t live in an ideal world. Whatever the cause, and the causes are numerous, many of their parents do not participate in the educational process. They don’t investigate educational opportunities offered in the school district; they come to the nearest neighborhood school and sign up.

“High-quality charter schools” are not going to help these children. The very nature of “choice” separates children who have involved parents—even to the minimal degree of making a choice and signing a registration form—from those who do not.

Charter schools have come to represent the best in the educational-reform movement, where content transcends testing, where a clear mission and a spirit of innovation promote a passion for learning. Public schools must reclaim that function so that all children benefit from an “investment in education É accompanied by reform and innovation.”

We may like to believe we live in a meritocracy, in a land of equal opportunity, but we cannot disregard the children who start out so far behind that the odds are they’ll never catch up. As long as even some parents aren’t aware of the date school begins, our government funds and community focus need to be directed to creating a vibrant and vigorous public school system that serves every single child.

End note: Ruby attended UC Davis and is now a doctor.