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School Choice; Choice Schools

Sep 03, 2008
“School Choice” is one of those loaded terms that often stands in for the neocon effort to destroy the public school system (along with as many other public benefits—Medicare, Social Security—as it can).

There is plenty wrong with our public schools, and the notion of school choice—to give it the most positive spin—presents desperate parents with the hope they can move their child to a setting more conducive to learning than the impoverished and violent surroundings far too many students find themselves in today. (The fourth season of The Wire grimly and too-realistically depicts just what our inner-city children, teachers, and school administrators are up against.)

School Choice is a largely empty hope, however, as a report from EducationSector reveals. “Plotting School Choice: The Challenges of Crossing District Lines”1 lays out the very real and usually insurmountable obstacles to broadly implementing a program of real school choice in America. Transportation is a major drawback, as is limited capacity in the accepting schools. Under the best of circumstances, few students can reasonably take part in such programs, leaving the vast majority where they are. And there is little research evidence to support the efficacy of moving students to higher-performing schools.

So what is a society that genuinely cares about all its citizens and is justifiably alarmed at the extent to which it is failing far too many of them to do? One idea is to bring teacher compensation more in line with a strategy to recruit and retain the best candidates. This is the argument put forth by Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor in the fall issue of the Hoover Institution's Education Next. His paper, “Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule,”2 argues that beginning teachers need to be paid more and they need to reach their peak earning years earlier (as happens in other professions) in order for the system to attract the best and the brightest candidates.

Obama has made education a major consideration in his campaign,3 although his solutions often strike one as rather more of the same and lack the out-of-the-box thinking we need to bring to this issue in the 21st century.

Finally, we may need to adopt programs that reflect the title of a 2004 book on educational reform: Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn.4 We need to rescue significant minorities of our people from lives of ignorance, violence, and despair, and we need to adopt new modes of learning that fully incorporate the brave new tools and techniques available to us. And to do these things, we need to do whatever it takes.

Anything less will hasten our decline in a world that needs us and our example more than ever.
1Plotting School Choice
2Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule (.pdf)
3Obama on Education
4Whatever It Takes
tags: Education

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