30 April 2007

Free Schooling...Sort Of

Two stories on CNN.com in the last few days deal with kinds of free education.

The first concerns border towns in Texas and an influx of illegal students from Mexican towns who cross the border – every day perhaps? – so that they can attend school in the US. According to the article, “The border crossing is so common in El Paso that officials opened a special lane just for students this month. The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that more than 1,200 people passed through that lane from Mexico on a recent morning.”

I’m guessing that neither the illegal students nor their parents pay local taxes to finance their schooling. Of course, one size does not fit all, and some of these students are probably US citizens who live in Mexico. Others may have other “special” circumstances. But it seems reasonable to make sure that students actually live in the district where they attend school. I know that in other places, away from the border, students and parents have to prove residency in order to enroll in school. It doesn’t seem too demanding to think that this simple rule should apply to all.

Although, now that I think about it, it would be interesting to hear an argument from someone that might sound a lot like, “These children have a right to get their education anywhere they can, and if that is in Texas, then it should not matter what their nationality, residency or citizen status is. A good education is a right!”

Indeed. The argument sounds like choice of school to me. It sounds a lot like, if taken to it’s logical conclusion, it espouses breaking up the monopoly of public education and allowing free choice of where families spend tax money as they see fit on their children’s education.

But wait, the article is about potentially (probably) illegal alien students. Never mind.

The second article has to do with a “guarantee” of college in a state school. There is a move in Wisconsin by the governor to make a state promise of higher education to 8th graders in exchange for a promise by the prospective higher-learner to get good grades, take college-prep classes and “be good citizens”. How this will be paid for remains in the air, but the article says it will be “a combination of work study, loans and scholarships.”

As long as both ends hold up their end of the deal, I think this might be a good thing. It will be interesting, in 4 years’ time, to see if students who do not make the grade will be denied their higher education slots. It will also be interesting if there is a move by the state government to stabilize college costs, as it will have an even greater interest in keeping costs low.

All in all, though, I’m a little dubious about this program. It is my opinion that secondary schools can and should do a better job of teaching core competencies, like literacy (and not the fluffy cultural literacy…real printed word literacy), numeracy, civics, basic sciences and physical fitness. Additionally, they should do these things with 80-90% of the school day. If students are taught to communicate well, to understand the world around them in different ways (language, math, science), to understand how their country is structured and their place within it, and to love taking care of themselves (physically, mentally, scholastically, etc), then those who choose higher education will be ready for it. And what’s more, I believe that the state will want to finance that higher education. No contracts needed. The student will earn it and the state will be happy to invest.

Sometimes I do feel really idealistic.

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