For years, at least for the years I was considering higher education for myself and then my kids, the norm was four years of college equals a bachelor's degree. Some schools even offered an accelerated three-year degree program for students interested in humping a little and getting it done as quickly as possible.
I guess things have changed. U.S. Department of Education statistics from 2008 show that only 36 percent of first-time, full-time college students earned their bachelor's degree in four years at the school in which they started. The University of Buffalo is one school that has recently implemented an optional "Finish in 4" program; UB's plan is to give participating freshmen access to the courses, services and resources they need to graduate in four years or the university picks up the tab for the extra time. Students, in turn, have to keep up their grades, meet as required with advisors and make school a priority.
The program's success would hinge in part, I imagine, on having "college-ready" freshmen. We've all heard the horror stories about seniors who can't do simple math, who read at or below grade school level, who can't write a grammatically correct sentence or a paragraph that makes sense (there are school administrators and teachers who can't, either), but who yet somehow manage to graduate.
Enter Rick Santorum. His Internet bio states he has home-schooled his seven children since 2006, that following a residency dispute with the Penn Hills School District in suburban Pittsburgh regarding district-born tuition costs for five of the Santorum children attending a cyber charter school. Evidently there was some disagreement as to whether the family actually lived in Pennsylvania at the time.
Anyway, the candidate's recent speeches have included comments about how public schools should be locally owned and operated. I haven't heard that he's said anything about the resulting increase in disparities. Maybe there wouldn't be any. But he's also proclaimed, though, that if he is elected president he will homeschool his children in the White House. What's wrong with D.C. public schools that a little local ownership wouldn't fix? You'd think he'd be right on that.
I don't disagree with Santorum's contention that public schools are factory-like. The onerous No Child Left Behind, for which he voted, BTW, wasn't designed to foster individuality. Nearly a dozen states have applied for NCLB waivers, and it's not because their populations are exceptionally stupid.
But without public schools, public school standards, and the accompanying funding, an awful lot of kids would get no education at all and would have no chance of ever getting into college, "finished in 4" or otherwise. Not every family has the resources or the desire to send their kids to private schools or to home-school them. And doesn't home schooling require someone to be at home at least some of the time? Someone like a parent?
Wherever his family lives, it's doubtful Santorum has been the one there teaching the kids. It's nice that his wife could afford to quit her job and do it, though.
"Public schools?" Santorum has said. "That's a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools."
I wonder why those "government-run schools" that aren't good enough for Rick Santorum's kids are good enough for other people's. Think of the improvements that would be made in our public schools if everyone's child had to attend them.
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Gayle Morrow wears several different hats, depending on the day and the need, but mostly she just thinks too much. She has been sharing her opinions in this space off and on since 1988.