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View Diary: “I Don’t Believe That”: Reforming the Debate to Reform Education (25 comments)

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  •  Really? (0+ / 0-)
    The reality is that choice, even when offered, does not turn out to be that popular.

    If I remember correctly, every school voucher program that has ever been implemented has been oversubscribed. I'm not aware of any voucher program that has ever lacked for applicants.

    There are thousands of charter schools obviously, but to the extent that I'm familiar with maybe a few hundred of them, I know them to be constantly oversubscribed as well. I've not heard of a charter school begging for students, even brand new ones with no reputation.

    I do know about one particular example of a desegregation program that allows kids from a low-performing district to attend schools in a high-performing one that is apparently suprisingly not difficult to qualify for due to a low level of applicants. But it's a very small district, and so a small pool of potential applicants, and the program is not that well advertised, and it's in the interest of all parties to keep it that way (high performing district doesn't want any more students than necessary, low performing district doesn't want to lose them, and parents who know about it would obviously prefer that others don't).

    I do think that there are good reasons for parents to not be excited about opting for a "choice" school: logistics, alienating/stigmatized social environment, whatever else, and so I'm sure there will always be a majority of students attending their neighborhood public school. And I don't propose "dismantling" those schools; part of the theory behind choice is experimentation leading to innovation and competition leading to improvement across the board.

    The fact that I always refer to is that liberal, educated, affluent parents will absolutely not send their kids to failing public schools, even as they argue against choice for those parents who have no other options. Look at the Oakland schools for example. In one of the most liberal, educated areas in the country, you can count the number of white students graduating an OUSD public high school there on one hand. I know these kinds of parents, personally, and they do not fuck around when it comes to their own kids educations. They will move hell and high water to get their kids into a school that works even if they cannot afford it. They will find a way.

    Why then deny that same opportunity to others?

    •  choice (0+ / 0-)

      I have written a critical examination of parental choice (, and the evidence shows some interesting things.

      One is that choice offered rarely triggers market forces; parents either take the choice in really small numbers (Florida had only 3% with choice take it) or behave poorly as consumers (choose based on factors other than academic quality).

      Another is that in many cases offering choice, parents returned to schools labeled "failing" within a couple years of taking the choice for factors more social than academic.

      Interesting study from a pro-choice think tank in Milwaukee:

      Dodenhoff, D. (2007, October). Fixing the Milwaukee public schools: The limits of parent-driven reform. Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, 20(8). Thiensville, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute 20/Vol20no8/Vol20no8p1.html  

      •  Link to the Milwaukee study was broken (0+ / 0-)

        and your study sounds interesting. I don't see why choosing based on factors other than academic quality should matter. Plenty of people choose colleges based on factors other than academic quality as well, and nobody blinks an eye.

        And what's wrong with choice being offered, but few parents take it? That would seem to be the best of all worlds that can please everyone. The neighborhood schools are still full of kids of a variety of types, but no parent is trapped.

        As I've said further up, so long at least some parents choose to put their kids in alternative kinds of arrangements, I'll be actively (I help community-based nonprofits in low-income communities start charters) supportive of providing those choices. I'd love to see a world where there are so many different choices that there aren't "lotteries" for excellent schools of whatever type, and failing schools are quickly closed down and re-opened under new management.

        •  depends on purpose (0+ / 0-)

          IF the purpose of choice is to reform the system (increase academic quality of schools), then the reasons for choice and the participation levels do matter; that is my point

          •  Yeah, I don't really accept that premise (0+ / 0-)

            Public schools should respond to the public. If the public wants to have more choice as to where they are able to send their kids to school, then we should provide it.

            That said, I do think that competition generally improves quality and innovation, and monopolies retard those things. Traditional public schools have operated as monopolies in many cases; if you lacked the funds for private school, then that's where you had to send your kids, even if the school was entirely dysfunctional.

            There's also the question of experimentation. Charter schools for example are often established under alternative pedagogical theories. Over time, it will be interesting to see if any of the more fringey sort of ideas in education actually turn out to be winners. Maybe it's a problem that some kids will have been guinea pigs in failed experiments, but overall, it should improve the situation.

            Again, though bottom line for me is that parents want the choice. Give it to them.

            •  Idealizing competition and charters (0+ / 0-)

              First, the evidence on competition goes against the "belief" we have in it as a culture; I recommend:

              Competition tends to do more harm than good in almost all cases, but especially in the pursuit of education for all. It is the mechanism of Social Darwinism, not social justice.

              At one point, charter schooling was an adventure in public school experimentation, but no more. The term has been co-opted by corporate interests.

              And we don't need any different mechanism to experiment because teaching IS experimentation; every year each teacher sits before NEW students and that year becomes an experiment.

              Until we set aside our cultural blinders that make us believe in competition and choice in ways that don't match what the evidence shows, we'll continue to fail democracy.

              •  Oh come on (0+ / 0-)

                "Co-opted by corporate interests?" You're talking to someone who has personally worked with incredibly committed community-based nonprofit organizations to start charter schools. There's nothing "corporate" about any of the charters that I've helped start; it's just people at the grassroots level who care about their community and the education of the youth.

                By way of example, I helped Alice Callaghan, a former nun who runs a group that works with the poorest of the poor, residents of LA's Skid Row, start two charter schools for Skid Row children.

                And the idea that experimentation begins and ends in the classroom seems false on its face. If that were the case, we wouldn't have schools for gifted kids, magnets, schools for the arts, schools for science and math, military-style schools, "small" schools, schools that emphasize parental involvement, and on and on, before you ever even get to charter schools. In fact, I imagine that entire programs in schools of education would be eliminated in so far as they didn't directly involve the classroom experience.

                And we're not talking about competition and cooperation as if they were mutually exclusive. If the parents, teachers and administrators at a given school do not cooperate well with each other, their school will not be competitive with other schools where they do. Of course we cooperate, but there's always a level of cooperation in order to compete in the bigger picture. Even if every human being on Earth saw themselves as cooperating with every other human being, we would still be in competition with other forms of life for scarce resources.

                And the concrete facts are that competition has been good for public schools, at least in so far as it relates to charters. If charters were so destructive to public education, you would think that LAUSD would be faring worse than any other district in the country, because we have the most, both in terms of raw numbers and probably in terms of per capita as well. But LAUSD is a district with generally improving test scores, building community support (at least as expressed in ballot initiatives), etc.

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