A properly supported public education is the future of this nation

Thursday, January 15, 2009 | 11:12 a.m. CST; updated 2:26 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

How dare she.

The Columbia Daily Tribune’s Web site headline “CPS Math – A civil war,” piqued my curiosity. I’ve taught college-level business mathematics and wanted to know what was happening in our public schools.  

It appears that Columbia School Board member Ines Segert and her husband have a dispute with Columbia Public School's “reformed math strategies.” They believe the traditional methods of teaching mathematics are far better for their son than a new and “experimental” curriculum. So when they discovered that their boy was being taught via the “reformed” method, they removed him from the realm of public education at West Junior High School, enrolling him in the private Columbia Independent School.

Mind you, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the Columbia Independent School. Nor do I necessarily disagree with the Segerts. But …

How dare she turn her back on the very institution that she so ardently fought to have oversight as a member of the board. Her lack of support for the Columbia Public Schools should be a warning to the parents of public school students – don’t trust a board member who does not want his or her child educated in those very public schools.

Columbia Public Schools, as many have told me, does not have the best reputation for quality education. Math has always been a contention; from “traditional” to “new math” to “reformed math.”  The last is our public educators’ current attempt to fix an ongoing “problem.” That there is a problem at all is something that escapes me, a relatively poor math student myself, who taught statistics at Stephens College.

Yet, there is a major misconception based on one of the greatest myths in education ever perpetrated on the American public. We are being lead to believe that private education is better; that proprietary education curriculum is somehow superior to public supported education.  In fact, we do not know.

Jim Morris of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education  provided me with some edification. First, the Missouri Assessment Plan, or MAP, predates the No Child Left Behind requirements. MAP tests maintain such a high standard that they are the basis of No Child Left Behind testing in Missouri.

Second, in answer to the question of quality of education; private and parochial schools are not required to participate in such testing and are not held to the same standards as public schools. 

It is comparing apples to nothing but a myth.  There is, therefore, no way to fairly compare the education provided by either.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is one of the oldest comparative tests in the world. Even here, there appears to be no statistical comparison of public versus private education. It is important to note, however, that of the 303 students participating in the 2008 Spelling Bee, 173 were from public schools and that the winner was a public school student.

It is also worthy to note that the public school system has been under siege for decades, is badly underfunded and is the “school of last resort” for many students who would otherwise be refused from most private K-12 institutions. But it is more complicated. 

Conservative religious zealots are afraid that modern science and knowledge may and will “infect” their children with ideas outside of their teachings.  In their minds, the term “intellectual” has become as injurious as “liberal” and “communist.” Today, extremists in the Republican Party pander to this small but vocal group of ultra orthodox believers to create an unholy partnership to destroy public education and science. 

Ms. Segert, if your trust in our public education system is so mired in muck that you removed your child from public education, I strongly suggest that you vacate your seat to someone who believes that properly funded and supported public education is the future of this nation.


David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at


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Ayn Rand January 15, 2009 | 3:40 p.m.

Obama is another parent whose opinion of public schools is so low that he chose to send his kids elsewhere.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 17, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.

I'm glad I'm not running for school board as Mr. Rosman would find me an unworthy candidate. My son fell a few weeks short of the cutoff to enroll in kindergarten in CPS. My wife and I did not feel another year of preschool would serve him well, so entered him in a private school where he is still enrolled. I'll also add that my wife is a self-professed liberal and comes from a family with a long history of public school teachers. I think the candidate that had the best grasp on the financial situation in the school district over the past ten years might have been the one with no children at all in the district - Henry Lane. Should we have automatically disqualified him for that sole reason over someone who had kids in the system?

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 17, 2009 | 11:17 a.m.

I agree with Ayn that the president should be putting his kids into a public school, something I wrote about a number of years ago in another paper when Mr. Clinton put his daughter in the same school. The reason, however, is not the quality of education, but the security of this specific school chosen. A little different than Ms Segert's reasonong.

Mr. Schultz - Your reasoning, again, is not based on the quality of education, but on the ability of your son to enter the system without extending his pre-school experience. Again, this is a different case.

The problem I raise is not the use of a private school but is the lack of respect this elected official has over her charge. In addition, it is to stress that a private education institution does not have to meet the same stringent tests of the public school system and, therefore, there is no method of comparing quality of education.

(Report Comment)
Mike Zweifel January 17, 2009 | 3:21 p.m.

Mr. Rosman,

The Segert's oldest son is still enrolled at Rock Bridge High School. So she obviously still believes in public education to some degree. Should she still resign?

As for properly funded, if memory serves, wasn't West Junior High a magnet/charter school, or something like that, which meant the students there were receiving more money per student than other students in the district? I seem to recall a figure of around $10,000/student at West, while the rest of the district was around $6,000/student. Yet the additional money did not improve test scores/results to a statistically significant degree. So more money per student does not necessarily mean better grades or a better quality education. What is your definition of properly funded?

Being a parent comes first, and if Segert thinks her child will be better served at CIS, then so be it. I have no problem with her as a CPS board member. We need people on the board who can be a budget hawk, and she is the most vocal about it. With Gadbois leaving, someone needs to step up to the plate and assume that role.

And I have a real problem with your reasoning that she should resign her seat. You are making it out to be that if Segert has no vested interest in the situation, she has no right to speak out or be a part of the process to fix it. Segert most certainly has the right to do so, just as you have the right to speak out in your column calling for her resignation. If we go down that line of thought, I guess I cannot speak out for more VA funding because I am not a veteran or in the health care industry.

Since I have a child in CPS, I have an interest in seeing CPS run more efficiently and effectively, and I applaud Segert's efforts to bring more accountability to CPS and its administration. I want what is best for my child, and all children in CPS, and I think Segert's voice needs to be heard.

Maybe pulling one of her children out of CPS will be a wake up call for other CPS parents as well, and that might get those other parents involved in the process, the board meetings, and their children's schools, which would be a good thing for this community.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 17, 2009 | 4:10 p.m.

Mike Zweifel you are correct as inclusion of all will in most all cases and even other issues will draw more valid points of view to this issue and others than the exclusion of all as it looks to be the status quo for this entire county and city.

It is time this county and city wake up and vote the "elitists" who are not meeting the needs of the citizens out of office and to return government to the people as it should be,"working from the ground up" and not the top down.

Sure you must have a balance in everything but with "elitists" in charge and drafting policies you will never have the balance you truly want or deserve as a tax paying citizen.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 17, 2009 | 4:20 p.m.

David makes a good point with this editorial and one I've heard before.

But his is one interpretation. Another is what Mike Zweifel offers -- that the Segert family's move is a loud, self-sacrificial wake-up call to a public school district that has failed to hear that it is failing many of its charges academically.

Knowing Ines as I do, I believe her move represents the latter. She's definitely willing to go out on a limb when she has something she thinks people need to hear.

I'd be more interested to see David and some of our other journalists investigate those who've really checked out of our public schools -- wealthy developers who pay a pittance in property taxes on some of the richest parcels in town, and the government officials -- mostly Democrats, oddly enough -- who let them.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 17, 2009 | 4:24 p.m.

But what if I leave my son in that private institution instead of moving him to CPS when he would be old enough to enter kindergarten? Would that make me a school board candidate that should be shunned? And it's my previously self-described liberal wife who thinks the private school we chose is better than Columbia, not myself.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 18, 2009 | 12:59 p.m.

Mike, it's $15,136 for West Boulevard. Here are the funding figures for that and the rest of the schools:

See also:

"Former Superintendent Phyllis Chase made minority achievement a priority during her tenure and in 2004 converted West Boulevard Elementary to a 'model school' to test new strategies. Last year, the district spent more than $15,000 per student at West Boulevard - the most of any elementary - but black students there still failed performance benchmarks."

Take race and other socioeconomic factors out of the equation, and one thing is still clear: Money is not the decisive factor in achievement. Committed parents and students are far more important.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 18, 2009 | 1:57 p.m.

>>> Committed parents and students are far more important. <<<

There it is in a nut shell.

(Report Comment)
Mike Zweifel January 18, 2009 | 10:04 p.m.

Thank you, Ayn. I knew there was discrepancies in spending per school, but could not remember how long ago or where I saw that.

(Report Comment)

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