Tag Archives: Ohio

How Andrew Brenner Got it Wrong, part 3

Let me establish something right off the top.

I don’t know State Representative Andrew Brenner of Ohio. I’ve never met the man. I don’t even live in his state. I have nothing against him, personally. He seems like a nice guy, as much as an internet personality is reflective of a real person. Our “relationship” consists of two articles he wrote on education and a twitter feed. He was kind enough to follow me, I reciprocated. I’m just an education nerd finishing up a dual master’s degree here in Texas who is discovering a passion for education reform and education policy.

So when I say that Rep. Brenner “got it wrong” it really boils down to my disagreement with his viewpoint on education and education reform, and recognizing that his views represent other views. I’ve given two reasons why I disagree with him in my first and second posts. Here’s the third, and it’s a philosophical one (but don’t check out on me now, I can keep this easy).

A simple question: in a democracy that requires all students to go to school until a certain age, are those students entitled to a free public education, or a free private education?

Advocates of the school privatization model for education reform are basically arguing that students (and their parents) should “shop” for the best education for their money just like any other product or service. Once they find what they like, they should pay into that particular program and assume that the program will produce an outcome suitable for the student to become a productive and informed citizen. They often point to higher education as an example of how this model can work successfully. Market forces will allow the best educational programs to succeed and the worst to fail.

Here’s the problem with higher education as your standard: higher education assumes (sometimes wrongly) a certain baseline knowledge in its students. Higher education is based on the premise (again, currently wrongly) that the students are already trained as a productive citizen capable of contributing to the common good and public interest. Higher education is supplementary to the education a citizen receives, it is not required. I think that, in education, it against the best interests of the public to allow the weight and influence of corporate dollars to operate as the sole voice and engine for deciding what kids learn, and I think if you privatize education, that’s exactly what will happen.

This brings us back to the fundamental question: do we honestly believe that we can privately decide what will produce the best citizen, or is that a public conversation?

I think that’s a public conversation, guided by federal standards, enforced by the state, and implemented by counties (or cities). I don’t want Dell, Microsoft, or Citi solely setting the agenda for what my child should or should not know. I’m not against school choice. I’m not against competition. I am against oligarchy and plutocracy in a democracy. That thinking runs counter to the whole democratic experiment. I’m concerned that the school choice model will push us further in that direction. School privatization doesn’t solve the real problem(s) in public education and introduces another aggravating factor.

Thank you, Rep. Brenner, for sharing your ideas in a public forum. Thank you for your service in a public office. I fervently hope that as you continue to interact in the public square regarding that you would incorporate ideas from outside of your typical political viewpoint.

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How Andrew Brenner Got it Wrong, part 2

In the last blog, I wrote a response to Ohio State Representative Andrew Brenner’s article calling for school reform and equating public education in the United States with socialism. Either his wife, the intern who runs his wife’s twitter account, or Brenner (it’s still a little unclear to me) accused me of misunderstanding the article. That same person also accused me of bad journalism because I responded to the article (because evidently the standard of blogging is that you’re supposed to let the other person know that you disagree with their clear, unambiguous statements before you disagree with them on a blog post).

Before I could ask for clarification of whatever it was that I misunderstood, Brenner wrote a clarifying article. I want to applaud him for backing off of some of the more inflammatory rhetoric that he employed in his previous article (probably to stimulate the conversation) and employ a more reasoned argument for his policy. I anticipate this new article won’t get as much airtime, but it’s the one that deserves the interaction on the mainstream news cycle.

I still respectfully disagree with Brenner for a couple of reasons; I will deal with the first in this post.

Brenner states, “In one of the school districts I represent, my local school district of Olentangy, we spend approximately $9,400 per student.” He also points out, “While the cost per student in our urban schools is roughly twice the per student spending in the schools I represent, they are failing and failing miserably. I don’t think a school district like Youngstown, which spends roughly $20,000 per student and received 2 Ds and 3 Fs on its state report card, should continue to operate in the manner they are now.” Similarly, Brenner notes, “We are spending approximately one-third the cost in most of our rural schools as opposed to our urban, and they too have poverty and drugs. Yet, these rural schools are out performing our urban and many of our suburban schools.”

If I take these three statements at face value and as the truth, then I have to ask: since rural schools are out-performing urban and suburban schools, then how can we duplicate what the rural schools are doing?

Caveat: I don’t live in Ohio, so I can’t speak to the specific practices of Ohio schools. I strongly suspect, though, that Ohio rural schools succeed and out-perform due to community engagement, not because of school choice. Rural schools can do more with less because the schools happen in communities that have a strong history and habit of pulling together to deal with the ills of the community. In his previous article, Brenner pointed out that early “one-room schoolhouses” often took place in houses of worship—Christian churches.

This wasn’t a coincidence. Basic education (reading, writing) occurred in the home, by the parents. After that children went to some kind of school for either vocational training or liberal arts education (generally understood to prepare for citizenship). Christian churches that were the institution most concerned with the public good in this case and so they opened their facilities and resources to allow for the education of the middle and lower classes. If you were wealthy, you hired a tutor or sent your children to (very exclusive) private schools.

It was the efforts and concerns of the community, and one of the institutions in that community that drove the creation of the public school as we know it.

I don’t think the free market is a “magic bullet” to the problem of school reform. It’s not that I disagree with school choice. It’s that I disagree with school choice as the chief means for school reform. I do not think that education is a product. The product (the outcome) is the educated student. Education is what you do to create the product. It is a system of experiences designed to shape the values, drives, and interests of the individual. Using a product-based model will not provide the solution.

Thank you, Rep. Brenner, for taking on the monumental task of education reform in the United States of America. Thank you for attempting a multidisciplinary approach to reform. My hope is that you will broaden your perspective beyond the ideas of Friedman and economics to bring real, positive, change to education.

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