School Choice: The Song Remains The Same?

Sol Stern is hardly the only person saying that school choice isn’t a panacea but it is important that he is saying it.

But, just as folks on the Democratic side who broke with their party-line in the 1990s to point out that it takes a lot more than money to fix what’s wrong with schools today found themselves battling a larger ideological and political agenda that had nothing to do with kids, I suspect that Republicans who start to question the primacy of choice within their party will get a similar reception.

Two papers looking at different aspects of the choice-public oversight question here and here.

Also, worth mentioning, though choice is not a panacea, it’s hard to miss that choice based reforms have destabilized the political environment around schools in some places and paved the way for broader reforms around instruction etc…D.C. is an obvious example but LA could prove to be one…etc…

4 Replies to “School Choice: The Song Remains The Same?”

  1. Sol Stern may get a cold shoulder from some, but not from me. Small choice programs necessarily lead to small competitive impacts. Some may have fallen prey to unrealistic expectations.

    Where choice programs have been more than tiny, results have been as well. I’m writing from Phoenix, where 9 out of the top 10 public schools ranked by their Terra Nova reading scores are charter schools. The 10th is magnet school.

    That’s not bad at all.

    -Matthew Ladner

  2. Schools that draw students exclusively from a population of well engaged parents have good Terra Nova scores. Imagine that. At least 60% of the variance in student achievement is due to factors OUTSIDE the school. In fact, most estimates put that percentage at 70% or more. Basically, the easiest way to way to improve achievement is to change who attends your school. When evaluating the success of charters, magnets, and such we need to compare apples to apples. Some NAEP studies have done this. They find that charter schools and private schools do no better than public schools when you compare apples to apples. There are some legit grounds on which to advance choice schemes, but wholesale achievement gains are not among them.

  3. [quote] battling a larger ideological and political agenda that had nothing to do with kids[/quote]

    Do you assume that those who are AGAINST “school choice” have the children’s best interests in mind or do they have the goal of protecting their power base within the government operated schools industrial complex?

    It seems to me that the people who are in power with the crumbling artifacts around their feet should be on the dime to PROVE that their pathway forward will not lead to a similar conclusion as they are facing now rather than the other guy to needing to “disprove a negative”.

  4. Good stuff from everyone. Stern has changed his mind because he says that only one goal of the voucher program has been accomplished : scholarship students receive better edcuation. However, the other two aims, pressuring public schools to improve to compete, and encouraging other states to adopt similar choice programs, haven’t occured.

    The third goal won’t happen until the competition begins, the public schools haven’t improved yet as a result of vouchers. This doesn’t mean that they don’t feel the pressure though.

    My high school is sweating bullets as we lose students to one of two charter schools that boast 14:1 student-teacher ratios, compared to our 35:1, or to the much larger public school that offers at least 75% more programs and course than we do.

    How has our district responded? Pamphlets. Door-to-door visits by teachers, begging students to return, or to stay (it is reminiscient of a pathetic Jerry Macguire begging Kush to stay with him when he’s already signed with the jerk agent) and the absolute REFUSAL to expel any student, no matter how dangerous, or how many felonies, or on-campus meth overdoses or coke lines snorted on desks, because each student has a price tag attached to him or her that we can’t afford to lose. My kid is only 8 months old, but I wouldn’t send him to my school.

    But the pressure is there. The declining enrollment means lower budgets, more cuts, and when I said they were “sweating” I mean it; we all are. Budget cuts have occured in many places, but utilities has been a big on the last two years. Classrooms were set no lower than 79 degrees, in AUGUST, with 38-40 kids. Lights and air shut off after 3:30 pm and all summer. But they don’t associate this stress with the need to improve education, programs, or facilities.

    However, we have laptops for every teacher, LCDs and smartboards in every classroom, and if our bond passes this next year (it didn’t last year), each student will have a laptop. Coincidence? Absolutely not. It is an earnest attempt to improve, to attract students, teachers, and statewide attention for how great we are (and we could be great) Market-economy needs time for competitors to feel the reprucussions of their inaction and refusal to change, to lower prices, or provide a superior product, or both. All monopolies react the same way when a new competitor comes to town. First, indifference. Second, indignation. finally, desperation. We have to be willing to allow the old system to go bankrupt, or the market won’t work and no body gets educated, and American is in a bad place in the global market within the next generation.

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