01 September 2010

School Choice, or how I learned to write an almost un-humourous blog post

School choice has been much in the news lately, as pundits across the nation weigh in on the LA Times' decision to publish the "evaluation data" for 6000 elementary teachers in the LA Unified School District. ( check it out here ). For what its worth, I don't mind the paper publishing the data, although I do think any attempt to judge teachers by it is probably vastly misguided.

I know you're thinking that judging teachers by a test is fair, since that's how we judge students. But that's not entirely true. You see, teachers try to get students to improve. If students have deficiencies, teachers can try to overcome those, but even the best teacher won't always get a kid to "grade level" in one year. Do we judge the DMV on how many people get licenses? No. Nor should we. To take the crappy analogy one step further, do we judge drivers' education businesses on how many people get in crashes? I don't. But I'm intelligent, and work in education.

Anyway, this is a giant introduction to my current angry rant; school choice.

Now I know that I'm going to sound like an old fogey when I really get rolling here, but I don't think students and parents should get to choose. Unless that choice is a private school, in which case, hey, go crazy, waste that money.

I know, I know, people deserve choice. That's what make capitalism great, choice. Here's the problem. On occasion, people must be forced into doing something without choice, for the greater good. So, I want you to think about public education (and a lack of choice therein) as jury duty. (admittedly, this comparison is probably not entirely the best I've ever come up with, since people hate jury duty, but hang with me).

So, when the summons to jury duty comes, you get on facebook, you talk to people at work, you bitch. But when the day actually comes, you and 500 other people, with whom you have very little in common, gather in the basement of the courthouse, and you wait to be called to do your civic duty. No one gets to say, "I'm smarter/richer/more civically involved, I want to get civil court". They might get excused when they get upstairs and have a conflict of interest, but in the jury pool room, everyone waits.

And this is good. It's good for the nation, and for the people, because they're all doing their civic duty, and making the country better. That's what schools should do. They should make the country smarter and better, not just better test takers.

See, this is a segue, I went from jury to school, but how will I get to hating on charter schools?

Here's how

Charter schools represent parents pulling their kids from a traditional public school to go to a school that the parents think is better. Which is fine for your kids but bad for the country. You see, public schools serve many purposes. They build community, they force kids to interact (socially and academically) with students very different from themselves, and they teach communal values and civic behavior. They also serve students who's parents don't give a damn, and students who might have problems which only educational professionals can help to remedy.

Let's envision a world full of charter schools. Parents pick and choose a program "best" for their child. What does that do? I'll make some bold predictions.

Prediction 1:

Public schools only have the dregs. Congratulations, conservatives, you've re-segregated, only this time you've done it by class and level of caring. The best students are at charter or private schools. Special ed students, poorer students who can't afford transportation, and students who's parents are asleep at the switch, for whatever reason are the only people left in public schools. The upside is that education gets cheaper for the taxpayers! (but if we're talking about fiscal responsibility, we would have to talk about entitlement programs and the military, so we'll save those for another day.)

Prediction 2:

The "best" students become more and more specialized, because they are only surrounded by people and a building that specializes. This hampers their growth, because they are never truly given the opportunity for exposure to things they didn't know they liked. And, since kids will be constantly changing schools, they don't build those durable friendships that so many of us cherish from our youth.

Prediction 3:

America gets dumber. I know this seems hard to believe, given the dumbness already prevalent on the National Mall and cable news. But here's what I foresee happening: As American students become more and more stratified, they lose the one thing which has consistently made America better than other countries, the ability to engage in civil civic discourse. So, America becomes dumber, because young people progressively insulate themselves further and further into their own echo chambers, refusing to intellectually challenge themselves, and that makes us all dumber.

Anyway, I know this was a downer, and that it wasn't all that funny. So, in the words of a coworker, to reward you for reading all the way to the bottom, here's a picture of a velociraptor on a bicycle


  1. So is the solution to do away with Charters completely?

  2. No, the solution is to fund education how it needs and fail students that don't make the grade. Get rid of standardized testing and find an accurate way of measuring if a student has learned the concepts or needs another try. Follow through with programs that will make students better, and give them consequences for poor choices, both socially and academically.

    And more cup cakes.

  3. I think Evan has hit the nail on the head. I would add that I think charters do indeed need to be eliminated. I'll couch that by saying that the unions could be heavily curtailed as well. If you want to improve education, as charterists claim that they do, do it within the greater school, instead of simply walking away from the problems and starting anew.

    I think that charterists walk away, and talk about walking away from unions, but are actually walking away from problem children (behavior and needs based) as well.