Saturday, February 28, 2004


The incoming superintendent of the Lincoln Public Schools is going to be paid $200,000 a year, one of the highest salaries of any line of work, public or private, in the state.

Meanwhile, tuition for a parochial school in Lincoln is $800 a year -- less than $5 a day on a 180-day schedule.

Those two facts converge as this series on private education comes to a close. They illustrate the amazing variety in philosophies and approaches that are being taken with K-12 education in the public sector vs. the private sector.

Public schools: spare no expense in satisfying the needs of the adults employed in the system; take all the credit for what's working, and none of the blame for what's not.

Private schools: just give kids what they need and improvise and scrounge to make it work; you really can do more with less.

The trendline appears to be that the public schools are demanding more and more money . . . and the private schools are doing the same things, only better, for far, far less.

I'm struck by the image a friend of mine relates: she saw a teacher in an inner-city private school repositioning a broken floor tile with her foot while she was teaching. She later went back to glue it in place herself. At the same time, this friend's children were attending a cushy suburban public school that spared no expense on technology and furnishings -- only the best would do.

Yet each and every one of those disadvantaged private-school children was reading at or above grade level. She saw books piled everywhere and lots of notebooks and lined paper filled with words. She saw a kindergartener's paper posted on the wall; he had written the word ''chrysanthemum.'' Heck, most adults can’t write that word correctly.

Yet in her cushy suburban public school, very few of the kids were reading and writing very well at all. Instead, they played at ''centers'' and did ''projects.''

In the public schools, despite their far superior funding, there is an alarming number of students who have become learning disabled, either through medical causes or, as growing numbers of educational observers suspect, through the wrong kinds of curriculum and instruction in the early grades.

There didn't used to be this disparity in spending levels between public schools and private schools. There didn't used to be this disparity in student achievement, either.

As the twig is bent, no matter how much money is poured into it, the tree will grow . . . and it is becoming apparent that no matter how much money we pour into public schools, if their philosophies and methods aren't right, the kids aren’t going to flourish.

Meanwhile, the private schools and home schools just keep plugging away, doing the right things for kids for not much more cost than a generation ago.

Hmm. Which management model should we follow?

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