Homeowners can set own bedtimes

The above would probably not run as a headline in your local paper, yet the Chicago Tribune’s Metro section carried a story with a headline just as ridiculous: “Private schools can write own rules.”

“Many operate without scrutiny,” says the subhead to this story by Tracy Dell’Angela and Diane Rado, written in response to the closing of a small Chicago private school for fire code violations. The Loop Lab School obviously faced some scrutiny since it was shut down for not keeping up with code, a likely result of political pressure on the Chicago Fire Department after the E2 nightclub disaster.

But while the story begins with the pretense that parents have little reason to be assured of the physical safety of students in private schools, it quickly morphs into a diatribe against the lack of government regulation of private schools generally, including curricula.

To wit:

There is no state law that requires their teachers to be trained, college-educated or screened for criminal convictions. Private schools don’t have to have an established curriculum — or any curriculum at all. And while all schools must by law keep updated health and vaccination records on every student, government officials rarely try to verify this unless there is a complaint.

The only government inspections that are required at private schools have nothing to do with education — but rather cover fire and building safety codes.

The school, located on North Michigan Avenue, is derided in the story as merely a family-run business with 200 students enrolled and a $100 a week tuition, even though the only parent quoted in the story told the reporters, “I was pleased with what I saw, the way they handled the children.”

Non-parochial schools like my alma mater do seek accreditation from the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, as noted in the story, but about 800 parochial schools seek recognition from the Illinois Board of Education because, the reporters insist, it is a “selling point for private schools, because it suggests to parents that it has undergone the same scrutiny as a public school.”

Ah, yes. I’m sure that most parents in the market for a private school — already desperately seeking to pay twice (once in private tuition, once in taxes) just to get a decent education — want to be assured right off the bat that their child’s new school will be just as great as the government schools they are deserting.

But the process is flawed because it’s “voluntary and the state has no authority to impose public-school standards,” the reporters argue. Gee, if parents really wanted the great standards they’d come to expect from government-run schools, why would they essentially pay a double tuition to send their children to private schools?

“I really had no clue how they are run or what questions I needed to ask,” the Loop Lab parent said. “Even though I know private schools are different than public schools, I didn’t know they had that much leeway. … I just assumed there’s someone they have to answer to.”

Yes, there is someone they have to answer to — you! The government’s virtual monopoly over education in this country has gotten so bad that even some parents who take the initiative to opt out of the failing system don’t have the vaguest understanding of what it means for them to take an active role in choosing a school, and ensuring that it is responsive to their questions, concerns and recommendations.

That stunning development is what needs investigating, not how relatively little control politicians exert over private schools.