Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(False) School Choice

One of the biggest selling points for the "school choice" movement is that "schools will compete for your student." Basically, the theory behind the market approach to education is that schools will work to be better as they do whatever they can to attract the best, brightest, and most students. Without doing that, they don't get paid.

This is a fine concept in theory, that plays off the "common sense" of utopian libertarianism. The concept falls on its face when presented with reality. I present two examples where "school choice" places all the responsibility on the parent and the children to compete to get into schools.

College and Preschools.

One would think that with so many institutions "competing" for student participation at the preschool and collegiate levels, the application process would be much easier and less stressful.

But the application process is stressful because those schools know they are the best, have a large pool of applicants, and can pick and choose their students based on internal criteria to remain the best. Those who don't get in have to pick and choose between their second choices.

This works well at the college level, where you have a wealth of viable and excellent second choices - second choices that are also a lot of other folks' first choices. Colleges can also specialize - from small, private liberal arts teaching institutions to giant, State U research institutions attached to Division 1 Minor League Football Teams. There already exists a robust variety of college choices that take the "false" choice out of the equation.

Those choices DO NOT EXIST in many places the "school choice" model is being sold as a vehicle for education reform. In these places, like New Orleans, if you don't get into one of 8 functioning and accredited public schools, your remaining options are A) expensive parochial private schools, B) non-accredited charter schools, and C) non-accredited, underresourced public schools. With the exception of C), you have to compete to get into the other options as well. Even with those places that offer "open enrollment," there are specific requirements (forms, attendance requirements, behavior requirements, uniform requirements, transportation requirements, etc.) that come with participation and application.

The schools at the top of this food chain do not "compete" for the best students, the students and parents "compete" to get into these schools. The existence of non-functioning schools at the bottom of this chain keep the monopoly working. That is not an incentive to reform the local system.

The only way "school choice" works is if you are choosing between two places where your student is going to recieve a functioning, adequately-resourced education. The "choice" should be between the "art" school and the the "math & science" school, not between "functioning school" and "non-functioning security risk."

And this examination doesn't even touch the underserved exceptional students or socially maladjusted students, who are expensive to educate in the first place. When these students and their parents have to "compete" to recieve services, they are handed an additional, systematic level of disadvantage.

But, hey, it makes sense in political speeches that appeal to counterintuitive, utopian "common sense-ism."


1 comment:

Leigh C. said...

Preschool is the one that's especially traumatic. You just got over having to do EVERYthing physically for your kid, and now THIS? It. Sucks. Big. Time. At least, when college comes 'round, the kids can write their own essays and fill out their own applications.