In a recent post, I argued that because customized teaching and learning have so blurred the lines between public, private and homeschooling, it is now most practical to define public education as education which satisfies each state’s mandatory school attendance law. We require students to be educated to achieve a public purpose; education that satisfies this purpose should be considered public education, regardless of how that education is funded, delivered or governed.
I was careful in my post not to assume public education and public schools are synonymous. Most states define public schools as those schools owned and managed by school districts; they also define charter schools as public even though charters are privately owned and managed. Public schools are a subset of public education, but not all of public education.
The accomplished University of South Florida professor, Dr. Sherman Dorn, disagreed with my position in an excellent response to my post, and I’d like to address some of his counterarguments.
Professor Dorn argued that public education refers to education that is “publicly-funded, publicly-controlled, publicly accountable, publicly-accessible, and for public purposes,” but these criteria are so broad and ambiguous they will lead to endless and unproductive debates about what constitutes public education in today’s context of customization. For example, home-schooling at times does and does not fit Dr. Dorn’s criteria. My younger son spent a semester as a homeschooled student taking a full course load at St. Petersburg College. According to Dr. Dorn’s criteria, he was in public education while being homeschooled. But what if he’d only taken two St. Petersburg College courses that term, a third course from the privately-owned Connections Academy through the Florida Virtual School, and two free online course from Stanford University? I guess he would have been 60 percent of a public education student, but that percentage would have fluctuated throughout the day as he worked on various courses.
We run into this same complexity when applying Dr. Dorn’s framework to students enrolled in private schools. Many private school students receive public funding to pay for part or all of their daily instruction. Those portions of their day paid for by public funds seem to fit Dr. Dorn’s criteria, while those portions that are privately funded do not. Again, using Dr. Dorn’s framework, we have students moving in and out of public education on a minute-by-minute basis, and that strikes me as impractical.
Complexities also arise when we drill down into each of Dr. Dorn’s standards.