There’s a big fight going on in Texas over school choice. Some call it vouchers. The Texas House just gutted the major funding bill for Texas public schools of its provision for school vouchers/choice in a major rebuke of Texas Governor Greg Abbott who was elected on a pro-choice plank in his campaign. You can read more about the Texas situation by going here: https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/16/texas-house-school-vouchers/
Just recently the North Carolina legislature voted to increase choice for parents in our school systems. Read more about that here: https://www.edchoice.org/school-choice/programs/north-carolina-opportunity-scholarships/t.
Not surprisingly, those in the Education Cabal who benefit from “More Money” (for less performance) tend to oppose vouchers. They cry about losing funding to private schools. But they don’t tell you how much their costs go down when students leave the clutches of the current “do as we say” system. Actually, you wouldn’t hear much opposition were it not for those people and the Teachers’ Union parrots.
We favor vouchers. We think it is sound government policy to allow parents more choice in how their child is educated. It promotes competition and the current government system drives down competition and we think is at the root of the poor performance our school system exhibits year after year. The data shows that our system fails most of our students. It fails the under-achieving students when it focuses only on getting them to “minimum performance” standards and at the same time it fails the higher performing students because so much attention is given to “equal results” by bringing down the top rather than raising the performance of all students. We are told that a third of our students don’t achieve at grade level standards. What we are not told is how much better the more capable students could have, and should have, done. As Hood Richardson wrote recently, it is insanity to continue to do what we have been doing and expecting different results.
Parent expectations are important. The dirty secret about variance in the level of performance in different ethnic groups has shown consistently that Asian students do better comparably than do other ethnicities. We suspect that if as much attention were given to discovering why this is true as is consumed in getting low performing groups up to a minimum level we would learn that it is parent expectations of Asian parents that is significantly different than other groups. It is not that Asian students have greater aptitude, but it is true that Asian parents instill higher achieving attitudes in their children. Parent involvement is their child’s education does make a difference. Valuing parent participation in critical decisions would likely cause them to take greater interest in what the schools are doing than is true now.
Regardless of all of these arguments we think our Superintendent and School Board are really misreading the Handwriting On The Wall on this issue. It is they who should be advocating more choice for parents. They should open all schools to parents who want to choose that school. Few will do so because of transportation issues but it would do wonders for helping parents take a stronger interest in what their school is doing. Transportation expenses could be minimized if we went to a K-8, 9-12 system of neighborhood schools in which any parent in the district could choose any school, with the parents living closest to the school being given first choice and transportation until the maximum enrollment of that facility was met and if not, then the difference between the number who chose the school and its capacity, then the school would be available to anyone in the district.
But we would go further. We would allow the parents in each grade in a school to choose the teacher for their child. Same “space available” system being applied.
Imagine how much parent interest and meaningful involvement would increase if they knew they could select their child’s teacher. The dirty little secret now is that many parents actually get this choice now. They are the influential parents in a school and those who exert assertiveness as volunteers, activists and multiple other ways they find to get what they want for their child. Sometimes it has been as simple as the parent asking the principal to place their child in a specific course or with a specific teacher.
Then we would allow teachers choice. They could choose to remove students who caused trouble in their classrooms. The Right To Teach is an idea whose time has come and the School Board should develop a plan to facilitate parents and students understanding that they will not be allowed to keep a teacher from teaching or interfering with other students’ learning. Those students should be the responsibility of specially trained teachers and administrators. Alternative programs should isolate misbehaving students from those who behave and want to learn. We already allow choice in athletics. Coaches don’t have to put up with punk behavior with their team members and it does make a difference in the athletes’ behavior. Such a system would empower teachers when so many feel helpless to deal with discipline problems because of weak administrative support. And it should be available to substitute teachers as well.
I really believe to time is not far away that we will look back on the way we have structured the delivery of education and shake our heads and wonder how “they” could have been so wrong in the way they tried to fit the children into the system rather than fit the system to the needs of the students who want to learn. It is a valuable Life Lesson for a child to learn early on: You perform or you’re excluded. That is the way life is. The sooner they learn it, the better we will all be.
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