American David Boudia won the gold medal in the 10-meter platform dive at this month’s Olympic Games after his final dive — a back 2 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists from the pike position — earned him enough to edge out Chinese diver Qiu Bo by 1.80 points. During the previous two Olympics, in Beijing and in Athens, American divers had been shut out, not winning any medals.
Going into these Games, the Americans were expected to be outdone by the Chinese, and if you take a more expansive look at all eight Olympic diving events, they were. China won gold in six of those events, losing only the 3m springboard to Russia and the 10m platform to America. But as the Chinese demonstrated with their loss to Boudia, a history of dominance and presumed superiority is no guarantee of victory.
In the debate over elementary and secondary education, many Louisianians have decided that private schools are by their very nature better than their public counterparts.
Many are. However, some private school advocates have declared their schools better even as they’ve resisted policy proposals that would put theirs and public schools on the same platform. They want the medal without the competition.
Whether a private school is better than its nearby public schools matters a lot more now than it used to. Public money is now being used to send children to private schools across the state, and taxpayers deserve to know that it’s money well-spent, that it isn’t merely funding a right-wing belief that the government can’t do anything better than the private sector.
Because now just about any private school can make a play for voucher students, Louisiana Superintendent John White said last week that the Department of Education is going to be taking a harder look at how it approves private schools that request public funding for textbooks, special education and other services.
“Conditions have changed such that this process now has greater importance,” White said. “Thus the department has said we’re going to take a look at this process.” That’s welcome news. According to Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, heretofore the private school approval process has had “a rubber-stamp feel to it.”
There are about 385 private schools that are subject to state approval, and White was vague about what a review of such campuses will look like. It wouldn’t be feasible for the department to conduct a thorough review of all those campuses, he said. So the department will instead be looking for “red flags” that could lead to a more painstaking review.
Take New Living Word School in Ruston, a school that has been an albatross around White’s neck since May, when the Monroe News-Star revealed that it doesn’t have the capacity to educate the 315 voucher students the state approved it for.
White said last week that the state has worked out a memorandum of understanding with New Living Word that subjects the campus to a quarterly performance review.
While that’s a step in the right direction, it would have been more encouraging if White had instead announced that the state was cutting New Living Word out of the program.
Bob Kostelka, a North Louisiana Republican lawmaker critical of New Living Word’s method of using DVDs to teach students seated in Sunday School classrooms, has called it a “so-called school.” Nevertheless, it’s received the state’s blessing to educate children seeking refuge from struggling public schools.
Even if the state does create a more legitimate review process, private schools will still be given wider latitude than public campuses. For example, a private school has only to score above an F to receive voucher students. A public school has to score an A or B to do the same.
In a story that appeared earlier this month, Crystal Robinson told The Times-Picayune how disappointed she was that she was unable to secure a voucher for her 9-year-old to attend a private school. But Robinson also expressed frustration at not knowing how to judge the schools. She clearly understands that a private school isn’t necessarily better just because folks say it is.
“When I was doing the application,” she said, “I couldn’t find anything to say which private school — you know, how they were scoring, academics and stuff. You couldn’t find any of that. I was just going by word of mouth. I mean, you want to know what you’re getting into. You could be jumping out of the pot into the flames.”