Our Kids Have Given Enough!

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

God, I’m tired of the whole district versus commercial (private and charter) school debate. But, I feel strongly that district schools should be our Nation’s first choice to educate the majority of our children. I will therefore, continue to fight for not only their survival, but also success.

Usually, that means I’m at odds with school choice proponents. Today though, I read a blog post by Robin J. Lake and found myself agreeing with much of what she wrote. Ms. Lake is the Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. In her piece titled “Will the New Administration Love School Choice to Death?” she writes “Our study of Detroit’s current choice environment, now at 50 percent charter schools, offers an important caution: choice alone is no panacea. In fact, ”School choice“, she writes, ”presented as a panacea is dangerous, both rhetorically and as policy.” She points out that in Detroit, charter schools slightly outperform district schools [I found dissenting stories about this], but their students are still some of the lowest-performing in the nation. Detroit school management is dysfunctional to say the least. There are a dozen different government agencies sponsoring schools without any coordination. This results in a parental nightmare with no one managing transportation, no one taking responsibility for closing low-performing schools, and no one making sure special needs students are well served.

Providing the complete package is one of the things district schools generally do well. They transport your child to and from school and they feed him or her breakfast, lunch and maybe even during the summer if need be. They provide both special need and advanced placement education, usually some sort of tutor support where required, and have a full range of programs such as sports, band, art, and much, much, more. And, most importantly, they take all comers, regardless of their socio-economic status, special needs, ethnicity, etc.

The real truth I have come to believe, is that no matter what school option (including district schools) one looks at, it takes sufficient funding, quality administrators and teachers, engaged parents and high expectations to produce real, positive results. It also takes an environment where if the child starts at a disadvantage in school and life, he or she can get help (especially if there is none at home) to rise above it. I once heard a presentation making the point how just one caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. It struck me as incredibly sad to think that some children don’t even have that. That’s right…some children don’t even have one adult that cares about them.

When adults do care, good things usually happen. But, the more focused attention to a problem, the more likely the solution will be successful. Ms. Lake writes, “Choice is a powerful force, but it must be accompanied by thoughtful government oversight and supports for quality. There must be mechanisms to ensure that schools of choice serve the most challenging students. And there must be coordinated efforts across localities to empower parents with information, transportation, and other support systems. Without these efforts, families most often end up with a lot of choice and very little in the way of better options.” If there’s one clear lesson she has gleaned from the last 25 years of charter school implementation, she writes, it’s that “choice and competition are necessary but by no means sufficient to dramatically improve outcomes for students.”

I couldn’t agree more with Ms. Lake that, “To avoid choice becoming permanently polarized…scholars and advocates need to fight new programs that don’t promote quality and accountability.” They must advocate for policies that promote collaboration among school providers, ALL school providers, both district and commercial. They also must address equitable access for students with disabilities and other special needs and, maximize the effectiveness and accountability of any private voucher/scholarship and education savings account proposals.

And to her statement that “The new Department of Education should invest in strategies to prevent harm to students in districts facing major enrollment losses”, I say AMEN! Instead of fighting each other over who has the best answer, just imagine what we could do if we recognized there is good in all options and worked together for the best overall solution. Unfortunately, the pie is only so big and with the GOP fixation on tax cuts, it is getting smaller all the time. As long as the various school choice options are pitted against each other for resources, it is hard to see how we can work together for a better outcome. Something though, has to give and it damn well shouldn’t be our district school kids and their teachers. They’ve given enough.

2 responses to “Our Kids Have Given Enough!

  1. john huppenthal

    The purpose of school choice is not to compete on who can provide a better classical classroom. All that gives you is a faster hay wagon, maybe 30% faster. 30% is not to be sneezed at, over a 13 year academic career, that’s 4 years.

    But, the human mind is capable of growing at least seven times as fast as our current hay wagon system is moving. This hints at a future of untold promise. Where criminality and welfare populations drop towards zero and science advances at a blinding speed.

    Only school choice can reveal that future by creating an environment where the iron rules of district education that condemn the poor and minorities to a lesser future are relaxed and innovation is allowed.

    • Stating opinion as fact doesn’t make it so, John. School choice has been around in Arizona 1994 when open enrollment was initiated and the first charters opened in 1995. Although charters were originally envisioned as “laboratories of innovation”, I think it is safe to say that ideal has not been attained, except for perhaps a few exceptions. The AZ Legislature approved vouchers (ESAs) in 2011, but five years later, we still don’t know much about their return on investment (ROI), because there is virtually no transparency or accountability for academic results achieved at private schools with taxpayer dollars.

      We innovate in district schools and could do much more if we would just focus on that instead of every new shiny thing that catches our eye. In my opinion, this whole school choice movement is more about politicians appealing to people’s tendency to think the “grass is always greener on the other side”, and/or, the GOP’s desire to “drown government in the bathtub.” And oh by the way, the “iron rules of district education” are created by politicians who can choose to change them. That would though…require them to stay focused on what’s really in the best interest of our country versus what will get them reelected.