School Size Matters

Sounding Board Editorial #1 (January 27, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     I let the first week go by without writing any commentary on the topics we discussed.  I had thought to do something on the governor's proposal to make college tuition free for students that maintained a B average from the ninth grade through their graduation from high school.  Lots to write about here, but I just didn't have the time to do a suitable job.  You can read the Sun's editorial on this here.  In the second week there was a topic that I did have time to think about.  The paper's editorial concerned some newly imposed penalties on middle school students that were habitually late to class.  I had no quarrel with the editorial, but I thought it presented the opportunity to push the focus here to the issue of charter schools (posted here):

Should school officials count tardy students as absent, with the ultimate consequence being a loss of class credit?  Seems stern, but as Tuesday’s editorial pointed out, most of us would agree it should be a “mandatory lesson.”

However, there is another lesson here.  When viewed against the larger backdrop of other school-related issues – dress codes, weapon and drug policies, off-campus rules, transportation logistics, to name but a few – we are seeing yet another “unexpected consequence” that has arisen from the centralization of public education.

The model of grouping together some seven hundred middle school students for the purpose of education sounds like a textbook example of a disaster waiting to happen.  It is easy to imagine that so many resources will have to be spent on controlling these students that education becomes merely a fortuitous by-product.

The centralized, monopolistic model is slowly being eclipsed by the model presented by charter schools.  Charters still face many challenges, but their small student populations alone yield enormous positive benefits in the educational process.  As long as parents continue to care about their children’s education, even opposition from the entrenched education establishment is unlikely to be successful at preventing the continued growth of these new schools.

So, yes, let’s applaud the efforts that keep students attending class on time.  But, let’s not lose sight of the flaws inherent in this system and look forward to a future where the city landscape is dotted with small neighborhood schools that are vibrant learning centers.

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level and is an avid Grand Canyon hiker.

Afterword:  One of my colleagues at NAU had positive things to say about this editorial.  It was kind of a surprise as she hadn't ever mentioned anything to me over the last . . . 18 years on any other letter/editorial I have written!  But, she has a child in a charter school and thinks the public schools are awful.  So, you never know who is going to agree.

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