Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'll take an order of Calculus with a side of English Lit.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published this article discussing how public schools across the country are starting to charge for classes, sports, and extracurriculars.  I know that this practice isn't a new one -- some schools have charged for their sports and extracurriculars all along.  Increasingly smaller budgets makes it impossible for schools to offer various programs and activities for free -- the rationale is if the school charges a fee for it, it frees up money to be spent elsewhere.

If the fees were only for sports or extracurriculars, I probably would not have as big of a problem with this idea, so long as accommodations were made for low-income students who wanted to participate.  This isn't the case, though.  Many schools are charging for academics -- and some of those schools do not offer any financial help in the process.  For example, "Dakota Ridge High in Littleton, Colo., charges sophomores $15 for basic 10th grade English but $50 for honors, which uses additional materials. Juniors can take basic English for $8 or pay $75—plus a test fee of about $90—for Advanced Placement English Literature".  This may not seem all that bad until you consider how this adds up over a number of classes and extracurriculars when a family has multiple kids.  One family from Ohio profiled in the article paid nearly $4500 for a year of public school for their children and were forced to keep their daughter out of chorus so they didn't run up the cost further.  Other schools have stopped offering more advanced classes altogether forcing families to look for these classes at local colleges.

Given that a private school price tag can run $15k - $20k per year, $4500 seems like a bargain.  With that said, what about the low-income kids who can't afford $4500?  Are they to be denied the opportunity to take an advanced chemistry class or an A/P English class because their parents can't afford it?  What about students who are talented in sports or music?  Some schools even charge for their extracurricular service organizations -- programs such as SADD.  This country puts a lot of weight and value on a college education.  Many of these types of programs factor heavily into college and scholarship applications.  What happens to those kids who don't have the opportunity to participate because they couldn't afford the fees?  (And yes, one could argue about the value of that college education versus some manner of vocational or trade school.  That may be the subject of another blog entry one of these days...)

And what about the gifted low-income kids?  Gifted programs are non-existent in many school districts.  Many argue that the enrichment programs that were offered to gifted kids were a joke -- and in some cases, this is absolutely true.  Now it's harder for the academically advanced kids to get the classes they need -- unless mom or dad can pony up the cash.  I've heard time and again how the smart kids can just manage on their own.  They don't need anything special to do it.  For some super motivated kids, that can be true.  I was one of those motivated kids -- I did have free access to advanced and A/P classes and I took them.  I also found ways to challenge myself outside the classroom all on my own.  There are just as many kids out there that need guidance and materials; they want to learn this stuff but just can't do it on their own.  What about them?

I wish I had some grand solution that would solve these problems.  Kids need opportunity to explore -- which makes sports, the arts, service organizations, and (of course) academics so very important.  How do you put a price tag on these needs?  Or, maybe more importantly, how do we remove the existing price tag?

No comments:

Post a Comment