Order, outcomes should be focus

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To succeed, public schools should get back to basic expectations.

PEOPLE IN CHARGE of the region's public schools would do well to pay attention to results of a recently published study by Education Next, in a journal associated with Harvard's Kennedy School and Stanford University.

The study found growing support for private school voucher programs and charter schools separate from public institutions. More Republicans (57 percent) supported education alternatives than Democrats (36 percent), but both party respondents show rising support for charters and vouchers.

Taken together, just under half of respondents back ways to bypass public schools. That should get the attention of every public school supporter.

COMPETITION IS GOOD. In fact, competition is at the heart of the American ethos. It makes everyone try harder.

The question public school governing bodies need to ask is this: Why do so many people want to vote with their kids' feet on the future of public education?

Here's our view. People want schools to be more like what they were before being overwhelmed with the roles of surrogate parent, chief cook, mental health counselor, conflict referee, values instiller and more. The more social responsibility dumped on schools, it seems, the more the social fabric has been shredded.

People want schools to be places of order and safety. They want schools with an unwavering focus on teachers who want to teach and students who want to learn. They expect rising outcomes in exchange for their tax dollars. They want personnel held accountable for achieving those outcomes. They expect graduates to be ready either for the workforce or higher education.

The rest of the many obligations rained down on school districts just get in the way and impede learning - fueling the desire for alternatives.

A FINAL WORD: Actually, two final words. (1) The new Beloit School Board has an opportunity to set a better direction. We recommend it start with adopting clear and simple priorities focused on orderly classrooms and outcomes. (2) We believe in public education. The danger of widespread use of private school vouchers, along with public school open enrollment, is leaving behind inner city public schools that increasingly are mostly poor and minority. Running away from public school issues is a losing strategy. Competition is good. Encouraging abandonment is bad. Find the proper balance.

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