Diane Ravitch has an informative and thoughtful article in The Los Angeles Times about the good the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could do (or not) for American education now that they have such a huge endowment. With education one of the foundation’s top priorities, Ravitch examines what has been one of their guiding principles when it comes to "improving" it. It seems the foundation has focused on creating so-called "mini-schools" of 500 or fewer pupils when high schools are deemed overcrowded.
Read further into Ravitch’s article, however, and find out about the law of unintended consequences and rediscover the meaning or irony. Since one of the large purposes of Gates & Co. in creating these mini-schools was to improve math and science education, it is worthy to note that the results in many of places their formula has been tried are mixed at best. In many of these places, math and science electives have had to be cut. Students show improved English and graduation rates, but lower math scores than their peers at the bigger schools. For some students, that’s a good trade. For others, it could be devastating.
For my part, I will not argue for big schools or for small schools. I came from small schools and I’m choosing them for my own children--but I do realize that they have their limits. Some parents and students may find a large school more to their liking and better suited to their needs. I would not presume to tell Mr. Gates and his foundation how they ought to spend their money. But if I had that kind of money to spend for improving education in this country, I think I might refrain from presuming to tell school districts and parents whom I had never met what size of school best suited their children.
So many of these so-called "problems" in education could be solved by one simple thing: choice. If every parent had the same ability that I have to choose the kind of school he wants for his children, I think alot of this nonsense would work itself out in a way that suited the most people in the best possible way. Not every person will make the best choice (Lord knows the jury is still out for me and my kids!). But, in the end, won’t more of them be pursuing their own happiness and isn’t that what freedom really means?
Shouldn’t we trust parents and local school administrators more than we trust Bill Gates (or the Department of Education for that matter) with the education of our own kids? Bill Gates is a brilliant and generous man--but no genius (not Bill Gates, not a federal bureaucrat, not even my own mother) is brilliant enough to tell me what is best for my kids. Perhaps they can offer useful opinions, but I think I and my husband can decide what works best for us. At bottom, I think that presumption on the part of public schools and their administrators is the one thing that most drives me away from them. I resent having government experts telling me what to do with my kids. If I’m going to take that kind of condescension from somebody, I want to know that I am the one choosing them and I can fire them at a moment’s notice! I think that is the healthy attitude for all freedom loving Americans. But I also know that I am fortunate to be able to afford that freedom. But I don’t think one should have to be fortunate or think of freedom as a luxury. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that our public schools need less "help" from the experts and the do-gooders and more freedom and choices for the parents. When it comes to education I say, "Power to the People!" And especially, to the parents.