Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Uncommon Denominators

Bobby Jindal is on the warpath in the wake of his school choice legislation being struck down by a Louisiana court as unconstitutional. I'm not writing this blog, actually, to talk about this particular legislation, about which I see nothing good and which it seems to me had better be struck down by the Louisiana and Supreme Courts as well, as it baldly seeks to divert public moneys to private entities. I'm writing it to talk about the weird obsession with school choice in regards to education reform.

There are lots of things politicians, policy-makers, and school leaders might mean when they talk about "school choice," or parents' access to free/ low-cost schooling options other than their neighborhood school. They might be talking about vouchers for private schools, as in the recently struck-down Louisiana legislation. But there are also various kinds of public schools, such as charter schools, magnet schools, online schools, and home-schooling options.

There are differing, and strong, opinions about the effectiveness and merit of some of these public options, but I'm not going to get into that either. What struck me about this most recent school choice article is just how thoroughly the entire discussion about updating and upgrading our school system has boiled down to school choice. Well, that and testing of teachers and students. Why?

There are so very many systemic upgrades needed whose successful application we know would  buoy each and every school: eliminating stark inequities in school financing; funding and supporting whole-family services at school sites where needed; renovating crumbling and outdated building structure and infrastructure; revamping teacher education, compensation, and working conditions to match today's workforce; improving the relevancy and responsiveness of curriculum development. Of course, those things would all take a tremendous amount of money and cooperation on the part of our nation's leaders. Asking citizens to fix these deep, enduring problems themselves requires phenomenally less money, attention, political will, or courage.

I'm not against experimenting with different formats and delivery systems in schools. I believe that innovating forces are generally good and necessary in a healthy society, all the more so when major inequities are present; and, moreover, I believe that one-size-fits-all approaches to children's learning and communities' success don't work. But for the conversation to be meaningful and effective, it simply must get larger and braver.

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