CPSR – Philosophy



The word “freedom” has an important place in the fabric of American life, but means different things to different people. However, it should never mean that anyone can do anything they want, without regard for the rights of others. Paradoxically, freedom must be constrained by responsibility in order to make its exercise practical and effective. Unconstrained freedom is more properly called license.

The determination of which responsibilities and constraints are needed or appropriate for the exercise of freedom is, to say the least, controversial. The fair resolution of these controversies can only occur through open discussion and democratic decision-making.

CPSR’s position is that more freedom (of the kinds mentioned below) will end the unhappiness many people have about public schools. In turn, schools will become more satisfactory in the eyes of all Americans.

The three principles of freedom in CPSR’s motto —

  • Citizens Free to Know
  • Parents Free to Choose
  • Teachers Free to Teach

— must be viewed as interlocking freedoms, each balanced and enhanced by the other two:

  • Parents free to choose will select schools where teachers are free to offer an effective instructional program that citizens freely know is proper and effective.
  • Citizens free to know what goes on in schools will inform parents’ free choices and determine the general parameters within which teachers are free to work.
  • Teachers will be free to teach when parents choose those teachers’ schools and citizens are free to know that effective and worthwhile instruction occurs there.

The positions listed below give a brief overview of some CPSR goals. Click here for a more detailed position paper –Philosophy (Expanded Version).

Citizens – The public should be able to learn a wide variety of things about how schools are operated, and what results they achieve with their clientele. This information might cover such things as overall and subgroup test scores in several basic curricular areas (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics), attendance rates, graduation rates, in-school crime and violence reports, followup information on graduates, data on income and expenditures (especially in relation to instruction), statistics on staff training and experience, school-leaving statistics, and whatever other information is deemed practical and relevant. None of this data should be collected in a way that violates individual student or staff privacy. This information, provided in a clear and jargon-free format, will allow the public to form judgments about how their tax dollars are being spent to accomplish the purposes each school has identified as its mission. Several interesting concepts and projects have been developed in this area. See Readings/Citizens

Families – Parents should be able to send their children to any publicly funded school they choose (including assistance with reasonable transportation costs), or to any private school they can afford. See Readings/Parents. CPSR generally opposes vouchers to send children to private schools. See Publications/Vouchers for more information on these concerns. Also, children have a natural interest in learning that must be recognized and protected.

Teachers – Classroom teachers should have control over many aspects of the operation of the schools where they work. This does not mean that teachers have to do their own jobs as well as those of others, but rather that they have an effective “say-so” about the work done in support of instruction at the school level. The traditional authoritarian structure of schools, where administrators direct teachers’ work, must give way to a more collegial organizational style. See Readings/Teachers. While the “all children can learn” slogan may not be completely attainable in practice, it expresses an ideal which teachers should continually strive to achieve. In particular, achievement rates within any student subgroup (determined by race, ethnicity, sex, or other status characteristics) should be roughly comparable.

The public school curriculum should be determined by state governments and local school districts. However, this curriculum should have substantial portions that are only recommended–not mandated. This curriculum should not be so detailed as to make teaching an exercise in covering topics rather than helping children develop an understanding of the world.

Schools should be able to drop students who aren’t able to cooperate with reasonable rules. At the same time, no student should be arbitrarily excluded for any reason other than past performance, and then only in accordance with due process. Schools should also be able to terminate (for just cause) the services of employees whose work is unsatisfactory.

Schools should seek practical technological innovations that demonstrably improve the effectiveness of instruction.

Taken together, these ideas will create a public school system that offers

  • citizens, through their elected representatives, the kind of education they can support;
  • parents and students the choices in schooling that meet their needs;
  • teachers the resources and responsibility they need to deliver an effective education.

For a more detailed explanation of some of these ideas, see Philosophy (Expanded Version) and either Compulsory School Attendance: An Idea Past Its Prime? or Choice and Compulsion: The End of and Era.