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Who is speaking up for schools?
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Because I have been physically confined and not "out and about," and because I don't have my computer available, I've done very little column writing recently except ones dealing with personal situations. But there's a public issue that I really want to understand better and to comment about: Why are public schools under such attack?

Now that the back-to-school rush is settling into a routine, and now that I am (temporarily at least) settling into my own routine in an assisted living facility where I have begun a new round of therapy, I can focus a bit on that school question.

It is very true that names and titles make specific impressions, even if the impression is (sometimes deliberately) false. The majority of us seldom dig below the surface name of an organization or movement to learn its real objective.

For example, any group declaring itself to be working for "educational reform: will surely have determined that something is amiss in the present system and that they know how to fix the problem. Right? Not necessarily.

Often the evidence of failure in the American public education system is based on comparisons to systems in other nations. But is that data compared on a fair basis?

Remember that many European and Asian students are relegated very early into "tracking systems" - vocational or college prep, etc., whereas our public schools include all who come.

Comparison of student test scores in America's public and private or charter schools more nearly reflects the abilities of the students who are enrolled than the learning environment of the schools involved. Ironically, however, most studies have shown that most charter school students have scored below or about the same as public school students.

Some questions, therefore: What educational reform is truly needed? Who is most forcefully pushing for reform? Who controls the school systems? How?

It used to be that a state department of education was the final word on basic curriculum, on performance standards, teacher certification and salaries, etc. As federal funds were made available, certain requirements established some financial control. Essentially, however, the state legislature expects specific controls because of their power of appropriation.

And for several years, Georgia's public school systems have seen shrinking appropriations - millions of dollars in cuts. Why? How important is education?

Under the guise of "reform," there have been several legislative moves to uphold the privatization of public schools - think, for instance of the amendment which created a separate (from the department of education) board with power to approve the establishing of charter schools, both nonprofit and for profit.

These privately run schools are funded by taxpayer money which is transferred from the school districts (public system) where the pupils reside to the charter school.

[Note: Dawson County's entire school system is a charter system, not the individual schools, thus their district funds are not yet affected, except by the overall state budget cuts.]

If I tell you that an organization, based in California, called "Students First" is one of the main forces behind anti-public education movements, you will probably react favorably to the name. After all, any group that works for the welfare of our children must be worthwhile.

"Students First" is actually a strong lobbying group. But I have questions about who stands to benefit from their lobbying efforts - and - I seriously doubt that it is our public school system. How important is a public system, anyway?

More about that later.

Helen Taylor's column appears periodically ion the Dawson Community News.