If you need evidence that quite a few public school officials live in a different world than the rest of us, you don’t need to look too far. Just take a look at our public conversation over the past few months.

Recently, Board of Education member Liz Barrett summarized the situation well when she provided “Tips for running for a seat on the Board of Education” (published May 25 in the News-Post), correctly stating that “effective policy making and school system oversight always take a backseat to…[b]oard norms...largely unwritten, sometimes unspoken, and usually arbitrary rules that are meant to keep dissenting voices in check.” Engaging in anything other than “happy talk” isn’t allowed, even if publicly discussing uncomfortable truths could help children. The priority is the school system’s public image.

Some board members tend to think that if parents aren’t happy with the public schools, there’s probably something wrong with them. Former Board of Education member Lois Jarman misleadingly expressed her support for Finland’s education system and its supposed ban on private schools, claiming that the Finns “don’t want or need” them (“Remember all teachers have done for us”, May 6 in the News-Post). Actually, some Finns do enroll their children in one of the country’s 75 private schools, which, according to the BBC, comprise 2 percent of all Finnish schools.

The likely source of confusion about this issue is that all of these privately run schools are publicly funded. Private schools in Finland are not allowed to charge tuition, but they are still independently run. In other words, Finland effectively has what we in America call a voucher program. In European and Scandinavian circles, the term “subsidized” is more typically used instead of “voucher,” but both mean the same thing — the government funds the cost of both private and public schools through taxes instead of parents paying directly.

When Gov. Larry Hogan tried to help more poor children attend private schools in exactly this manner by increasing the BOOST program’s funding to a paltry $10 million for the entire state, he drew fire from the teachers union, which said “we have billions in unmet needs in our public schools, any dollar dedicated to private schools — whether it’s $5 million, $10 million or one dollar — keeps us from meeting those needs.”

Really? The Kirwan Commission’s enacted legislation will increase education spending by roughly $4 billion per year within the next nine years, ramping up by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. And the union thinks that a single dollar to help poor kids is too much? Maryland’s total spending is $15.9 billion already, which according to the Maryland Public Policy Institute, is already 22 percent above the national average on a per pupil basis.

Why is this same argument never made against public university funding or roads or any other part of the state budget? Dollars spent in those categories could have been spent on public school funding as well. The reason is that public schools don’t want competition from other providers of K-12 education, especially competition with equal financial footing like public and private schools in many Scandinavian and European countries have. It’s much easier to claim victory when you don’t have anyone to compare yourselves to, and why public schools will continue to fight efforts for funding equality.

The pandemic has made public education’s dysfunctional culture more obvious. Most private schools were open for in-person learning this year, as were most child care centers. Somehow those organizations managed to keep their doors open, but Frederick’s public schools couldn’t figure out how to do that until recently, and when they finally did, they faced opposition from the teachers union. Private schools aren’t perfect, but at least they are largely free from unions and elected board members whose political aspirations and interests often intertwine in ways that don’t serve children well. Despite claiming a successful year of learning, public schools didn’t release their latest test scores and won’t administer the complete test in the fall.

Public education’s message is rather disappointing: We don’t value dissenting voices’ important role in spurring improvements. We do want citizens to pay more and more money for the services that we provide but don’t want to be held accountable for results. We do all of this because we know what choices are best for parents. You see, we are special. Whether it is free speech, fiscal responsibility, accountability for academic results, or even literally opening our doors to those we serve, different rules apply to us. What we say is true because it’s us, and you better not question it.

Tom Neumark was the founding president of the Frederick Classical Charter School and has been involved in education reform for more than 20 years.

(47) comments


At least it appears the FCPS is not in as bad a shape as Loudon County PS. Talk about whack-o.


Several times I wrote letters that were not published. The subject was a Scientific American article that celebrated that 67% of public school science teachers taught Evolution as fact and that only 12% nationwide offered a mixed message that creationism could be a possibility. Creationism: the belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation,

Let us be crystal clear. Nearly 90% of public science educators disavow the possibility that God could be real and that is taught within our public education system. So, so many of the newer progressive school policies emanate from this belief.

Certainly most of the daily commenters in this section adhere to this belief but I do not believe that a majority of Americans agree with this. More and more public education is being considered anti-God and that science is the new universal truth.

I may be wrong but I see major changes on the horizon.

So when the belief in creationism is taught as fact then god will become real? Yeah no that’s not how facts work, you realize that right? Facts can be proven and replicated, god cannot. If god wanted to be a fact don’t you think god would have proven it by now or someone would have? What’s god been waiting for? A sign ?

God cannot become an universal truth, until you can prove that god exists somewhere else besides one’s own imagination. Demonstrate god exists outside your imagination, then we will talk...,


I think of him as Schrödinger's commenter. He cites “the majority” when he thinks he is in the majority, regardless of whether majority opinion* is relevant to the issue. And when he thinks he is in the minority, why, then he is courageously standing up to the tyrannical majority.

*And he manipulates venues to claim a majority. He used to make much of the fact that a majority of counties in the US voted for Trump in 2016. Never mind no election is determined by the number of counties that vote one way or another.



You truly are the devil's advocate .As I have said often: "Strain at a gnat and swallow a Camel"

"However, 68% of all the unaffiliated expressed belief in God and out of the whole US population, only 2.4% self identified as "atheist". A 2013 poll by UPI/Harris showed that three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009."


Mr. Kline, What is your point here?


Obviously PP has no faith. That's unfortunate.

Faith is nothing more than gullibility Faith is the excuse that people give for believing something when they don't have evidence. (If someone had evidence to support a claim, they would have no reason to invoke faith; it would make no sense to invoke faith.) Facts don't require faith....god does. When you say I have no faith you are correct because I have no belief in any god..so I don't need faith for anything.

Faith is not a virtue, Faith is gullibility. If you think about it Jerry it's unfortunate you have faith...


The evidence is all around you, your just too naïve and closeminded to see it. I feel sad for you. Really I do. As Sting sang..."there's a hole, in my life".

So the evidence is all around me? The evidence that unicorns are real? Cause that would be so cool...I did see a sparkly rainbow the other day and some say that's what unicorns fart out..sparkly rainbows.


For JerryR:

“During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.....There are no witches.” ~ Mark Twain


Could you cite a source for your claim that nearly 90% public school science teachers teach that there is no possibility that god(s) could be real. Thank you.

I’m aware of the data that shows a bit more than 10% of public science teachers present creationism as an alternative to evolution. (https://evolution-outreach.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12052-020-00126-8)

But you assert something far different. Your claim is that almost 90% teach that there is no possibility that deities exist.

Also, why would it matter if a majority of Americans are creationists of one stripe or another? Faith is irrelevant to science. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”


jsk, Can you respond? Thank you.


Religion based schools teach only creationism as fact. Is one any better than the other? Those who deny evolution ignore that evolution occurs every year, perhaps not in larger species, but in bacteria and viruses. Those who deny evolution hold onto the "I didn't evolve from no ape" mantra. Those who know and understand the tenets of evolution also know that the theory doesn't say we did.


jsk; why is it difficult to imagine God created evolution? I mean, that's pretty impressive stuff? Just because the BIBLE says the world was made in some specific way, does not mean that there is a god who built the universe as a self-assembling apparatus. Evolution does not preclude a deity.



What a super, comment. Actually evolution is an astounding look into the beauty, magic and depth of God's creation process.

You would need to first define and demonstrate a god before you could even come close to asserting a god had a hand in creating evolution. Evolution at this point does preclude a deity...because we have yet to prove deity's are real.

It's like with these alleged alien sightings.....no one with any credibility is going to say they can attribute the sightings directly to aliens...because no one has been able to define nor demonstrate what an alien is or what alien technology actually is...just because we can't define nor explain the sightings does not give anyone license to say it was aliens..we don't know what we don't know.

Just because you can imagine something doesn't make it real....because I could imagine unicorns are real and no matter how hard I imagine it unicorns will never be real...


We do not know about anything preceding the Big Bang. So a deity creating a universe that follows logic and laws and initiated it with the Big Bang is as good as anything else. Does that mean a deity hears your prayers or that there is a heaven and hell or the rest of the bible stuff? Nope. That is different from the existence of a deity (which I would define as a being that has power and intelligence far beyond what we can comprehend). People like jsk tend to conflate "god" with "christianity and their bible" but in fact it is not so at all.

Welcome to Evolution 101!

by the Understanding Evolution team

Welcome to Evolution 101!

by the Understanding Evolution team

What is evolution and how does it work? Evolution 101 provides the nuts-and-bolts on the patterns and mechanisms of evolution. You can explore the following sections:

Three domains

An introduction to evolution

Evolution briefly defined and explained

The history of life: looking at the patterns

How does evolution lead to the tree of life?

Mechanisms: the processes of evolution

How does evolution work?


How does evolution work on a small scale?


What are species anyway, and how do new ones evolve?


How does evolution work on a grand scale?

The big issues

What are some of the big questions that evolutionary biologists are trying to answer?


We do not know about anything preceding the Big Bang. So a deity creating a universe that follows logic and laws and initiated it with the Big Bang is as good as anything else.....I see what you're saying..LOL...agreed. So the deity could be Loki? See Loki is my favorite God....so I'm picturing Loki creating evolution..cool.


shiftless, To credit a deity with creating evolution is to d*mn it with faint praise. It suggests that the deity is brainless, cruel, and wasteful.


jsk, 100% of teachers should be teaching Evolution as fact because Creationism is not possible. And as another commenter said “GOD created Evolution”


Tom is always whining about not getting enough funds to run schools that are essentially private. He uses tax money and complains about the government insisting on controlling expenitures. .An example is Tom's not wanting to hire teachers that the County recommended. They are recommended because they meet State qualifications. Qualifications Tom doesn't want to follow even though it is public money. Money Tom has no right to control.


Interesting column Mr. Neumark. Food for thought.


He gets a fair amount of bashing here, of which I do some myself, and I think he would be more successful in his quest if he were not so strident and unrealistic. It is not that there is nothing wrong with the public school system, and it is not that the charter schools are all failures. But they have a time and place and he does not seem to make that distinction.


Public schools get public money, and private schools get private money. That's an easy one.


OMG! 2% of Finnish schools are private. So, 98% aren't. So 98% are public? Way to prove nothing. This guy is not a teacher, but a dog with a bone about private schools on the public dime. Public schools must accommodate all children from the public; private schools can and do select students based on their own criteria, the comparison is idiotic.

Greg F

Not to mention private schools can teach all sorts of nonsense, push religion over science, omit entire histories of populations, engage in revisionist textbook distribution and worse. Granted, the good ones won't do that, but there are plenty out there with an agenda that science is bad, the miracle cure is still coming, and we peacefully obtained US lands from people willing to just up and be slaughtered for it.


Why don't we try to fix the bad schools (for example, not having them funded by local taxes) rather than allow those who can leave to do so and screw over the rest?


I think this column proves a point where those who don't like the viewpoint of the writer are already dismissing him. I don't see any reason why "going forward" the public schools can't work on a rotating schedule where 1/2 of the students come to school each day, while the other 1/2 stay home and work on projects and homework.

School vouchers would be great so parents can have a choice in the educational format that they want to see their tax dollars go towards. Maybe it includes a religious component. Perhaps it is because there are smaller class sizes. Or maybe that school offers more ways to serve the local community.


You seem to be unaware of how the system you consider benefits those with privilege and keeps the others down. For example; how is a kid with no transportation going to go to some other school other than the one in their neighborhood?


Perhaps those options can be served by the County Transportation programs? Or by neighbors helping neighbors (just as us parents carpool our kids to sports practices).

As to your other comment, why wouldn't a school voucher serve everyone? I can assure you from working for years in DC, the kids that rode on the MetroRail to school got free uniforms, reduced tuitions and free Metro fares.


Seems you are saying that your vouchers would be a way for parents to determine what makes "educational format" ( whatever that is ) acceptable to them, regardless of whether it makes sense, is rooted in sound principals, or goes contrary to widely held beliefs. That is NOT the purpose of an education.


Right on, Hay. The state always knows best. Only the government (under direction of the teacher unions) has responsibility -- and the authority -- to to ensure children are educated as the government determines is best. Who are these knuckle dragging, dim witted parents who seek to educate their offspring outside the dictates of the state?


hey veritas; you do realize you can vote, right?


Nonsense veritas- that’s your take and conspiracy thinking


Or Hayduke it could be a way for a family to take their children out of a "bully" situation, non-learning environment, or opt for a school with more focus on immersion programs such as art, technology, international baccalaureates. My friends in Europe have these school options everywhere.


Hayduke, I just checked with one of my home school parents, and they said that their kids have to pass State exams each year -- the same ones that the Public school kids have to pass. Yes, they are a Christian family -- mom home schools their daughter. Their son goes to public school.

I am not religious, but I think there is nothing wrong in looking at different approaches and allowing families to choose what is best for their kids. Some kids may flourish in a different environment.

I sure as heck would not want to be a teacher these days.


Who will care for the children who are at home? Critics of the shutdowns in the past year complain that parents, especially women, have been forced from the workplace because they needed to be home to provide childcare.


Your propaganda never ceases. Good lord, man! Change the recording!!!!


One can not and should not compare the opening of private schools during the pandemic with the opening of public schools. The largest enrollment in a FC private schools, St. John Regional Catholic, has an enrollment of 549 students in a very large building. All others are less than 250 students with the smallest less than 100 students. It is much easier to convert large spaces to areas where students can safely be physically distanced in a school with very small enrollments than in a large school of 800-1600+ . Please, let us compare oranges with oranges.


Yah, I get the feeling that a lot of the information in this column is skewed by the pandemic.


Again we have Tom's bashing of public education. He is a one trick pony. He never seems to get that private schools get to pick and choose. They can turn away those that refuse to follow their rules, PS cannot. It is really past time for him to be 'retired from being a regular contributor.


fjulia - [thumbup][thumbup]


Mr. Neumark,

Great column. This is a tough issue. Most of us have an affection for public schools having been raised within the system. Alums still attend events. School pride carries into adulthood.

Plus, a huge hurdle to those desiring change is the size and scope of the employment base. For employees of the system or families with one spouse working for the BOE it is like the golden goose of middle income America. Tens of thousands of our residents are impacted.

But the handwriting is on the wall. The BOE and the unions have become a progressive political force with far too much power and money. Their policies and politics are an anathema to many. There is a simmering and boiling under the surface throughout this country that may lead to a volcanic eruption. But that may be what is needed to break the powerful forces controlling the system.


So why do you think a minority rules? There are votes, correct? Do you somehow think the public is fooled and are tricked into voting for the "wrong" people? Or is it perhaps that you THINK you are in the majority but in reality are not?


What policies are you referring to? Be specific, not general or vague.

Welcome to the discussion.

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