When I was in high school, I was an academic competitor in every sense of the term. If there was any academic competition that I was interested in, I probably had tried it or at least researched it. This gave me a chance to face students from other schools in my city, other schools in my state, and other schools in the nation. Most importantly, I was able to compete against not only the best public schools but also the best private schools.
Public schools against private schools? Certainly that was a recipe for disaster! Actually, I didn’t necessarily find the stereotype of private high schools yielding better students than public high schools to be true. There certainly were a few powerhouse private high schools, but by far, my most serious competitors came from public schools just like I did.
I often felt, however, that my school didn’t support my team or myself as well as they could. Would I say public school failed me?
It’s not so easy to say that public schools in general have failed students. There are excellent and less-than-excellent examples of schools across the nation, and where one school might lack, it may have another area at which it excels.
If a public school does fail its students, then most likely it is not because of the teachers at that establishment. I know my school’s teachers certainly were passionate about their jobs and they knew their material. I can say that I enjoyed learning from most if not all of my AP teachers; they most certainly weren’t the problem.
What is the deal then? For one, there were…of course…other teachers who didn’t necessarily share the zeal of the former teachers. There were other teachers who simply weren’t competent in the material – trust me, it’s not comforting to hear a teacher say that he cannot pass the AP test for the subject he teaches.
However, I don’t think that teachers are the only problem, and they probably aren’t the majority of the problem. Instead, one thing I remember consistently was having to fight with the school administration. Schools today are mired in so many bureaucratic rules to fit in with even more bureaucratic laws that are out of touch with the needs of students that the schoolhouse has actually ceased to be the ideal environment to learn. Teachers are expected to teach to some kind of standardized test and hope that they can show noticeable improvement in these tests each year – or else they should expect cuts in school funding. Now, teachers don’t teach in a fun and engaging way because the law requires them to teach according to certain standards. Since students don’t respond well to these kinds of out-of-touch standards, the administrations dumb down the standards in a vicious cycle and education itself becomes meaningless.
It sounds depressing. However, it seems the perfect panacea to raise private schools as a beacon of what education should be: after all, they are not bound by the same bureaucratic limitations that public schools are, so doesn’t it follow that they will have more creative teaching styles, more able teachers, and more successful students? That’s what private school advocates would believe, of course, and maybe there is some merit to this belief.
However – and this is critical – there is nothing intrinsically different about private schools that make them *better* than public schools that public schools couldn’t change. After all, there are indeed public schools that compete as big fish in the big education pond.