Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making Bad Choices With School Choice

A reader sent this link to me and asked what I thought of it:

The logic of school choice seems obvious. If parents selected their children’s schools, they would not choose bad ones, so bad schools would not be able to survive. Schools would have to improve or close, just as a store that offers poor service will lose business to a store that offers better service.

Here’s my problem with that logic: I think it’s highly likely that many parents will choose bad schools.

I'm OK with that. People make bad choices in elections, too, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to get rid of the secret ballot and just have a dictatorship.


Mrs. C said...

First, we'd have to define what a "bad" choice would be. A *gasp* religious school? A school with rampant violence/drugs but good test scores? A school without a violence/drug problem but bad test scores? Or does a school have to have violence AND bad scores to be "bad?"

And finally...

Have you EVER known a school to just plain-out admit it stinks? You would think the worst places in public schooldom were elite little kingdoms the way some of their websites are worded.

Curmudgeon said...

I think Willingham's point was that vouchers and NCLB are based on the idea that parents and children need to be able to escape "bad" schools, but that the choices that parents make are usually based on other criteria than those envisioned by the law-makers, choices that are less justifiable than quality of education.

These criteria can be sports recruiting, closer to Mom's job, hatred of the school colors, easier grading, better "name," changing one failing school for another that didn't pass either (be it public, private or parochial). I don't agree with vouchers in these cases. I can't tell for certain what reason is chosen, though.

What if the parent chose the public school that failed math, english, and science - in the kid's category, no less? How can one justify taking money away from a school that is "doing it right" in favor of a school that isn't, just because the parent's a fool?

Remember, this money belongs to the town, not the parent, and the town should have the right to spend it on the local school. Parents who complain that "This is my money" are forgetting that they are paying property taxes roughly equal to a sixth of one child's education per year yet the school will educate any and all of the taxpayer's children, foster kids, etc.

To your other point ...
How, exactly does a "school" stink? In every school, for each ROTLC math teacher there's probably a loser who can't teach higher than algebra I. For each good class, there's one or more filled with kids who can't or won't learn. Averages mean little. Get your kids into the good classes with the good teachers and every school's a winner.

Mrs. C said...

Curmudgeon, I hear what you're saying, but I don't think the parent has as much power as you seem to imagine. "Get" my kid into a good class? They tell you less than a week before classes begin who your child's assigned teacher will be, and you'd better lump it.

I can't even move close to a school and assume my children will be there! They keep redistricting, and will literally pull kids from across town. So my children wouldn't go to school with their neighbours three blocks over, but kids from ten miles away! So the argument about closest school, best school colours, etc. is a red herring *here* IMO. I find "colour of skin of child or income of parents" a silly reason to redistrict thousands of children around in some sort of shell game. School colour would be a nicer way to make those important choices, and certainly far less racist. Just imagine how awful it would be to be told that your whole neighbourhood was going to be broken up and sent to two different schools because too many darker people live next to each other near my development and they want the races to be even in all the schools. Shocking.

Maybe as a parent, I could pick a school that would best fit my child's style or whatever if I were in that situation of *having* to send my children to school. Presently, with my elementary students, I am choosing "none of the above" and I'm happy with that.

I guess I would like to see choice for other people, because I enjoy mine so much. :]

Ellen K said...

It is also possible given the nature of parenting these days, that parents of problem children will inflict them on otherwise decent schools, dragging down those schools. When our boundaries were changed to admit some kids from the trailer park, for the first two years fights, gang activity and general crime were on the increase. That went away after awhile. But it also went away after the problem children went away.

mazenko said...

Many polls/studies show that parents choose schools that are close to home or work - conclusion?

Neighborhood schools with charter options. Problem solved.

Curmudgeon said...

Your guidance counselors are worthless if they can't get your kid's schedules with the teachers out to you by the end of May/mid-June - if the schedule is anywhere near complete they know who is in which class. The fact that they don't say indicates to me that they've chosen not to rather than don't know.

Why is it easier to switch schools than to switch teachers and how can one tell if the new situation will be any better? I'd figure that the new kid would get the dregs of the building, the last openings in the worst teachers' rooms. You wouldn't know any of the teachers and they could just dump you wherever.

allen (in Michigan) said...

The article posits a ridiculous situation, not that particular parents won't make lousy choices. They will.

What's ridiculous about the piece is that it asks the question as a general policy consideration - what if significant percentage of parents make lousy choices. More specifically, what if the net result of so many parents making lousy choices results in a worse public education outcome then the situation in which well-educated, thoughtful experts make the decisions.

Since that's the situation we've got now my response is - what have we got to lose?

allen (in Michigan) said...

Neighborhood schools with charter options. Problem solved.

And more important still, the sanctity of the district is maintained.

Why is it easier to switch schools than to switch teachers and how can one tell if the new situation will be any better?

Because switching schools is exclusively the decision of the parents. Switching teachers is a request that may, or may not, be granted depending on the situation at the school/district.

Mrs. C said...

With you, Allen in Michigan. In our district they do NOT allow you to switch. They also send out the notes right before school, tie up the phone lines and lock the building so la la la they can't hearrrr yooouuuu... Then the teachers send a note out after school begins telling you that parental involvement is really important, so be sure to help out with that homework! :]

Curmudgeon, switching schools, if we had the option, would be so much easier than changing the entire MO state law to reflect the idea that we need to treat autistic children as human beings. Mine was locked in a closet and "restrained" on several occasions. Really, the staff had no stinkin' clue how to handle autistic children, didn't feel like learning, were overwhelmed with too many kids in the building and probably were just glad to see us go. And we were glad to leave!

That being said, my older children went through the SAME elementary school under a different principal and we loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it! I think I still have the fundraising wrapping paper to prove it, though I pitched all the "spiritwear."