Costly Citizenship Education

Another aspect of the future of democracy that may be at risk under nonfunctionally public schools is the development of good citizens. Quality citizenship education can be hard to justify in economic terms. It is costly and likely not very efficient, especially at producing some of the desired outcomes described above. It requires time, ongoing conversation, and interaction between students and the outside world through field trips, service-learning, guest speakers, technology, and the like. It is already known that many of these aspects of quality citizenship education have been recently reduced in US public schools for a host of reasons related to decreased funding and increased time needed for test preparation in other subject areas.93

The case may be additionally worrisome in private voucher or for-profit schools because these types of educational approaches may eat into their profits or the time that could be directed toward more favored markers of educational success, thereby dissuading those schools from desiring or offering them in the first place. Because for-profit charter schools are often driven by markers such as testing and profit, they may shy away from careful and prolonged education for civic engagement because it is difficult to measure, typically not tested, and may prove to be costly in both finances and time spent away from tested subjects.

Key tested subjects like math and literacy contain important skills and knowledge sets necessary for future citizens to contribute economically, socially, and politically to society. We need citizens who not only have, but are also capable of using, academic knowledge and skills to engage in public problem solving and deliberation in order to keep democracy strong. Interestingly, evidence suggests that traditional public schools may teach more effectively than private or charter schools in some regards. In a large-scale national comparison of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores among these schools, Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski conclude, “Indeed, instead of a private school advantage, we have found substantial

(albeit unexpected) evidence of a significant public school advantage"94 They continue,

While this challenges the very basis of the current movement to remake public education based on choice, competition, and autonomy, our analyses indicate that public schools are enjoying an advantage in academic effectiveness because they are aligned with a more professional model of teaching and learning. Meanwhile, attributes such as operational autonomy championed by market theory—or, as it is increasingly a belief system rather than a policy theory, we ought to use the term “marketism"—may actually be hindering or even diverting schools in the independent sector from higher achievement as they use their freedom in embracing stagnant, less effective curricular practices.95

These conclusions should give citizens and policymakers pause in the rush to endorse new forms of public and private schooling.

In addition to basic subject-matter knowledge and skills, engaging in collective decision making and contributing to society require advanced thinking skills, including critical thinking. While one of White Hat Management’s recently proposed charter schools does express a desire to emphasize critical thinking, a rare study of EMOs revealed that EMOs often use drill and practice methods that are effective at improving basic skills, but fall short of cultivating advanced skills like reading comprehension and complex think- ing.96 Saltman, in an extended study of Edison EMO schools, argues that their use of the scripted curriculum “Success for All” fails to prepare children for a multicultural world, including an understanding of how power works across different groups of people—understandings I would argue are important for good citizenship education.97

Citizenship education does not often yield noticeable personal economic gain for the students who undergo it. While it may substantially improve the economic well-being of the country as a whole, when the unit of analysis is the individual student and his or her preparation for competition and consumption in the market, there is little direct payoff. Differing from other costly school subjects, like science with its expensive labs and equipment, students are unlikely to acquire more lucrative careers because of their civic knowledge or practice; in fact the appreciation for public service careers that may result from extensive civic education may actually jeopardize a student’s earning potential insofar as many of those careers, including teaching and law enforcement, are relatively low on the pay scale. It is possible, though not necessarily the case, that active civic participation during the K-12 experience may help individual students craft a resume that helps them secure admission to a desirable university, for civic participation is often still well regarded by admissions committees, thereby fulfilling a personal goal of students. In sum, however, quality citizenship education may be in jeopardy in some of our newest forms of public schools given these schools’ pronounced emphasis on economic efficiency.

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