Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Partners or Competitors?

When it comes to educating the nation’s children, are public schools and private schools partners or competitors? Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in on this topic twice in the past month, and delivered the same message both times: there is no competition.

In welcoming remarks at the Department of Education’s fifth annual conference for private school leaders, held September 23 in Washington, DC, Duncan said that expanding the supply of excellent schools should not be a source of competition between the public and private sectors. He called on both sectors to work together and learn from each other while pursuing the same goal. “And if we can get to the point where children have not just one great option but two or three or four great options, and let parents and students figure out what the best learning environment for them is, we will be in a very, very good spot,” he said.

In a much lighter forum on The Colbert Report October 5, Duncan was asked this question by perpetual tongue-in-cheek host Stephen Colbert: “If my kids are getting a good education in a private school, why as a taxpayer should I pay money to a public school? Aren’t those kids just going to compete with my kids? Shouldn’t I get my kids ahead, and then once my kids have landed a place in the world, then start paying for public schools?"

The diplomatic Duncan delivered this artful response: “I’ll tell you where our competition is. Our competition is not between your children in private school and children in public school. Our competition is with the rest of the world and our competition is either we’re going to invest in education early or we’re going to keep building jail cells at the back end. And so I’d much rather you invest early on; do the right thing by children. We’re going to pay now or pay later in a much worse situation. This is the right investment to make. And if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

I agree. The challenges our nation is facing in education, especially in our urban areas, are formidable. To meet those challenges, we need to enlist all available high-quality public, religious, and independent schools, particularly those with a proven track record of achievement. It’s not a competition; it’s a partnership for success.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)

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