More Choice

Some really thoughtful feedback to yesterday’s TIME column about how my wife and I chose a school. Couple of things worth amplifying.  First a friend pointed out that she and her husband have no choice but to move because all the options around them are low-quality – that’s a real issue and I hope it was implicit in our piece that the discussion was predicated on being able to choose among some acceptable options.

Second, a few people both on TIME’s comment section and in emails to me were dismayed that I didn’t mention curriculum and what a parent should look for.  That omission was deliberate. Curriculum matters a lot but this was about how the average parent could choose a school and curriculum is sufficiently complicated that I don’t think everyone should splash around in it.  After all, even the experts don’t agree.  That’s why I left it at: “Can the teachers talk with you after class about the curriculum and how they make decisions and set expectations” in the column.

Third, a TIME commenter was bummed that I didn’t mention talking to kids.  I thought this line pretty much covered that: “And we talked to kids, whose perspective is invaluable because they live it every day.”  They’re a great resource and in addition to talking to your friends and neighbor’s kids I’d be leery of any school that didn’t let you spend time talking to students and didn’t have (older) students show you around and talk candidly with you.

Finally, a few comments on rural (about half the school districts, a third of the schools, and a fifth of the students nationally) where there is often little choice as a few people pointed out.  That’s true, there are fewer options, and we saw that while living for almost eight years in a rural community. Yet, while rural locations add some constraints, some of our rural problems are a failure of creativity.  For my part, I’m sick of all the chatter about how distance learning is the way out. It’s a lot more complicated than that and there still is too little high quality material in the online sector – plus a lot of it just replicates the mediocre instruction you can get live and I wouldn’t want my kids sitting through that so don’t want it for rural kids either.  But, cooperation among rural districts – and there are some good example of this – as well as using technology in high-quality ways, and allowing smaller schools, can offer parents more options even in many places with more dispersed population.

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