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Commentary | LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Public School Support Wanes

September 04, 2004

Re "Demand for School Improvement Is Losing Steam," Aug. 30: Arthur Levine attributes to self-interest of baby boomers the decline in their efforts to improve the public schools. The steam for improvement is trapped within the brick walls of politicization and self-dealing of the public schools.

In fact, many baby boomers help to pay their grandchildren's private school tuitions, so bad are the public schools. Why should baby boomers be more interested in paying for an inferior, if not socially destructive, product than any other group of consumers?

The public schools they attended in their own time were often mediocre at best. Now, many baby boomers have caused a boom in the growth of private schools, favoring them for their own children because of their superior academic instruction and social milieu.

Baby boomers' efforts to improve the public schools have consistently run into the brick wall of entrenched, self-dealing ignoramuses bearing public administration degrees and their lickspittle and often lackluster teachers. Public schools differ little from large corporations: They think of the public as just so many digits to exploit, of laws governing equality in the provision and quality of services as a bottom-line maximizing sport to violate using public funds.

That the corporate management mentality has infused itself throughout public education and its putative enforcement agencies is evidenced in the fact that even the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education refers to complainants as "consumers."

Suzanne Gorenfeld

Ventura

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I agree with Levine that the demand for school improvement is indeed losing steam. Baby boomers like me are into the home stretch in terms of our children's education, and issues of healthcare and elder care seem far more pressing.

Where I think Levine misses the mark is in his solution that urban parents should be more politically active, demanding their right to better schools. Though this would help, what is essential is for all of us -- urban, suburban, rural -- to recognize that without excellent schools, the fabric of our society cannot hold. Saving our own children will not be not enough.

Democracy depends on an educated populace. So does the workforce that will support Social Security. We can't afford to leave a single child behind.

Carol Jago

Pacific Palisades

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If school funding will come under pressure from baby boomer's declining interest in education, as Columbia Teachers College President Levine contends, then we will need more out of each education dollar. There is much more to be had. The late Albert Shanker, onetime president of the American Federation of Teachers, explained why in an Oct. 2, 1989, Op-Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal: "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance, and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."

Tom Shuford

Lenoir, N.C.

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It doesn't follow that today's baby boomers no longer have education of the "front burner," inasmuch as that generation is marrying later and having children later in life. Therefore, one would expect that the 40- and 50-year-old parents, having children of school age, would be cognizant of the needs for school improvement etc. If not, what a sad commentary on their priorities.

Donald Shulman

Glendale

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