Public Education Under Siege

Historically, public education has been under siege. The Public Education Association of New York City was chartered in 1895 and has been a beacon of education criticism and reform ever since. Despite the legacy of school wars between Catholics and Protestants and the emergence of independent schools, public education has flourished. And, the fact that the United States is the most literate country in the history of the world and its social, economic, and cultural footprint is the largest in the world testifies to the efficacy of public education. Were access and equity available to persons of color and women since the beginning of the republic, there is no telling where the profile of the United States might be today. In this accountability era, reformers and policy makers view the disparity in education opportunity and the intransigence of the achievement gap as a threat to the republic as though the condition is new. So, governors want to punch teacher unions in the nose. Others have stripped teacher organization’s right to collectively bargain. Privatization of public education has become a mantra despite the colossal failures of the banking, automobile, steel, and financial services industries. The success and stability of public education is grist for the making of legends. Nonetheless, the professional practitioners of public education are under paid, routinely devalued and criticized, and systemically de-funded in an era when universal access to education is still embryonic. Meanwhile, the teacher shortage is acute. And, manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to nation states with under educated laborers and the need for knowledge workers has escalated exponentially. Instead of public education being under siege, business, political, and reform leaders should be advocating investments that are commensurate with the need and challenge of educating all children for the requirements of the 21st century. There is much to be done; jettisoning public education is not in the national self-interest.

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