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Rescuing Public Schools

September 04, 1988

Denis Doyle of Hudson Institute suggested in the Opinion section (Aug. 28) rescuing public schools by requiring them to be totally competitive as practiced in "public sector market." He gave examples of successes in high-tech industry and in higher education. Quoting the practice in colleges and universities, he favored voluntary student enrollment and teacher assignment in elementary and secondary schools and complete freedom to the schools in curriculum design. He blamed the mediocrity of our public education, which is undeniably a fact, to the hierarchical, command-control, top-down management.

In theory, Doyle's thesis may sound good. But in practice, it has too many flaws and may be workable only in small towns, certainly not in metropolises of several million. The author failed to realize that education is completely different from profit-seeking, sink-or-swim industries.

In citing high-tech industry, for example, Doyle chose only to look at successful firms in the game and close his eyes to those which have gone under in the process. Firms can declare bankruptcy; investments can be diverted; workers can relocate or go on unemployment. But citizens of a society must be educated at any cost. In comparison with colleges, Doyle failed to realize that college students either live in dormitories or drive to school while schoolchildren have no means to travel across our huge cities, especially those less affluent. Student motivations, family priorities, peer pressures, disciplines and environment are also important factors. If what Doyle termed "altruism and philanthropy" were abandoned and only competition and so-called freedom of choice adopted as he has suggested, the inner-city schools would definitely go downhill and the poor would suffer at the cost of creating "better schools" for the elite.

No one can deny that both Japan and the Soviet Union have better public education systems than we do. Both systems are of hierarchical, command-control, top-down management. The crux of the matter is that both of these countries put a high priority on their public education. They both employ top-quality teachers, the result of paying top salaries comparable to those paid in industry.

Education must be able to compete with all sectors in society to recruit the most competent teachers. To achieve this goal, society must be prepared to pay competitive salaries and to set the education budget at equal footing, if not higher, with the national defense budget. Not until this nation's Administration and people attain this wisdom, will we be able to maintain our supremacy as a world leader.

PAUL C. CHOW

Northridge

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