I am a state education official. For nearly 15 years I have been in a position that has enabled and indeed required me to take an active part in debates over goals and practices in public education. I am also an evangelical and am constantly made aware that many of the most thoughtful fellow believers have serious questions about the whole public education enterprise.

Controversy “goes with the territory,” and we educators could not do our job well if advocates for the rights of poor children, minority children, girls, and children with special needs were not constantly raising issues and demanding a response. An education official who starts hiding from such pressures has reached the saturation point and should look for less demanding work.

What is troubling about the concerns raised by evangelicals, though, is that they are not getting through. I read the education press as well as the religious press, and I consult with my counterparts in a dozen other states. I have found virtually no understanding of what evangelicals are saying about public schools, or why they are upset. I have heard no discussion of what the phenomenon of thousands of new schools says about the way we have been doing our business.

It may be, indeed, that the fact that many of the most concerned evangelicals simply take their children out of public schools rather than stay and struggle for change has permitted us in the education establishment the luxury of not listening. Those concerned about racial injustice in schools did not (with few exceptions) start alternative schools; they demanded that public schools become more just. Those concerned that Hispanic children were dropping behind and dropping out demanded bilingual education and support ...

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