Michael R. Wigley's counterpoint ("Witness the conscience of a liberal: It ain't pretty," Nov. 21) is, to be kind, obfuscatory (Mike, that's a big word I learned in public school).

My lawyer and politician friends would say the letter is "riddled with baseless allegations." My dad (also a public-school graduate), if he were alive today, would say it's a crock. My point is, I've read some of Wigley's propaganda before and, as is usually the case with him, the article is long on innuendo and short on data or research.

To quote his letter directly, for example, he says, "While legislators and bureaucrats are hand-wringing, analyzing and politicking, children are not learning to read or write or do arithmetic ... ."

He offers no proof of this grandiose allegation, and there's a reason. It's just not true.

A recent study from the Center on Education Policy is the latest in a long line of such studies showing that, among other things, when you compare students from similar economic and social backgrounds:

• Public-school students score as well or better than their private-school peers on achievement tests.

• Public-school students are just as likely to go to college as private-school students.

• Public-school students are just as satisfied in their jobs and are just as engaged in civic activities as private-school students by the age of 26.

As for the oft-heard refrain that, somehow, public schools were better in the past and we need to find a way to return to those golden days of yesteryear, the fact is more students are graduating from public high schools today than ever before; more public-school graduates are going on to college than ever before, and, in comparisons with their international peers, American students are actually performing quite well.

Now, I'm not "Pollyannish" about this subject and, unlike Wigley, I actually have some direct experience with it. I'd be the first to admit that the demands of the 21st century are putting educational institutions to the test. Continuous improvement and relentless vigilance to stay ahead in the race to provide kids with a relevant educational experience is the challenge of our time.

I also know the achievement gap for poor kids is real and is unacceptable. Its continued existence is a mark of shame on all of us, including Wigley. None of that, however, is an argument for privatizing education for profit.

Now, I know that Wigley's concerns are not really about public schools. That is to say, he does not limit himself to demonizing public schools alone. It is actually the word "public" that bothers him more than the word "schools." It seems he simply does not believe in any public expenditure of taxpayer dollars. He instead believes we will all be better off when our futures are left in the hands of corporate America and the enlightened few who share his views and his economic stature.

Me, I'm just a middle-class guy who, thanks to public schools and universities, managed to get an education I could not otherwise have been able to afford and who, because of that education, has enjoyed greater economic success than generations of my family before me.

As a result, I feel some obligation to make sure the next generation of kids among the poor, the working poor and the middle class have the same opportunity. Public schools have been the pathway of that opportunity for many generations. To believe private schools funded by vouchers will provide that same hope for all kids is to believe in Santa Claus, but I guess it is that time of year.

David Jennings is superintendent of the Chaska schools.