Write Angles

April 24, 2005

School Choice and Diversity

Filed under: Diversity,School Choice,School Reform — Damon @ 6:12 pm

Some people seem to believe that school choice would be the end of the school system as we know it. I don’t really understand the logic behind this fear.

I teach 11th grade math at a very unique school. We teach the core subjects within the context of semester long projects. For example, last semester’s theme was revolution. Each group of students produced a magazine in which each issue dealt with a different revolution. We covered cultural, historical, and scientific revolutions. The idea is to integrate different subjects within one project. (This approach does have its problems. One is that we have difficulty covering all of the curriculum. But I’ll save that discussion for a future post.)

Our project-based approach works well with most of our students. One reason is that students have to apply to our program and be accepted. For the most part they choose to be there. We tend to get students that are natural entrepreneurs.

I don’t pretend to think our school would work well with every student. And that is my main point.

Every student person is unique and learns in different ways. Some students are linguistically intelligent while others are more mathematically inclined. There are, supposedly, 7 or 8 different intelligence types. Combine that with, supposedly, 4 different learning styles and you get 28 to 32 different intelligence/learning style combinations. And if you combine that with…

Anyway, you get the idea. Our students are a diverse group of people. It only makes sense that they should be able to choose from a diverse set of learning environments. It seems that we have moved towards creating a cookie-cutter approach that is, supposedly, good for everyone. Teacher credential programs emphasize the different learning styles, different cultural backgrounds, etc. And creating variety in your instruction makes it more interesting and enjoyable for both students and teachers.

I don’t have a problem with any of that. My concern is this. In trying to make every classroom ideal (and equal) for every possible student it seems we are leaving every real child behind.

I may not be articulating myself well. (I am, after all, a math teacher.) I may even get hate mail from liberal educators teachers’ unions. But I think we should give students, and parents, more choices in where they go to school. More students who are interested in science or math could attend pre-engineering type magnet schools. Students interested in the arts could attend artistic magnet schools, etc. I guess I don’t understand the harm in that.

Would there be schools that lose enrollment because of problems? Yes. If so, should they work to reform their programs? Probably. Does school choice solve all of the problems? No.

But I think it would help.

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11 Comments »

  1. You know I couldn’t let this one go buy Damon. The problem with “charter” schools is that many of them don’t have real curriculums. I’m all for increasing funding for magnet schools to encourage above average students, but I don’t think that decreased funding to public schools is a good thing.

    Parochial schools are a prime example of substandard education. You don’t even need credentials at those schools. They don’t pay as well, so you end up getting crappier teachers. The only reason they have any success at all is because you have to test in. Government funding to these schools is, in my opinion, a waste of tax dollars.

    Perhaps the solution is diversity within the public school system rather than allowing vouchers to Bo Dunk Academy for Future Separationists.

    You say liberal teachers like it’s a bad thing. Recall what conservative means. Maintaining the status quo, static. Conservativism is not in favor of innovation. Use your labels wisely.

    Comment by Maria — April 26, 2005 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

  2. The Carnival Of Education: Week 12

    Welcome to the twelfth edition of The Carnival Of Education. Here we have assembled a variety of interesting and informative posts from around the ‘Sphere that have been submitted by various authors and readers. Those entries that were selected by us…

    Trackback by The Education Wonks — April 27, 2005 @ 2:09 am | Reply

  3. I think you did an excellent job of arguing for choice in education. Many liberal minded educrats tend to think that the only thing the current model needs is more money or more of something, but not more choice. Ever wonder why the American University system, including public universities, is the best the in world–simple. Choice.

    Students, parents, professors, etc., all have a choice in where they go to school,pay tuition, work, research. I am still not sure of the rationale behind opposing choice on the elementary and secondary education levels.

    Comment by Matt Johnston — April 27, 2005 @ 6:40 am | Reply

  4. Maria

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion about Parochial schools. But have you actually been to one? They may have “crappier” teachers but the kids in these schools learn how to read and write and do math. Since the parents choose to send the kids to these schools and pay good money (on top of the money they spend to support the public schools with the better teachers)there is a parental involvement/motivation which improves the crappier schools.

    Catholic education does not involves testing in, you fill out the forms, kids from the Parish get the first go at slots but many kids (not catholic) also attend. Its accredited (oops) and spends less per dollar per student. The one thing the schools demand is self discipline and effort.

    Here is the bottom line – my tax dollars support an inferior product, forcing me to spend extra money to send my children to a school which actually educates them. Maybe if public schools actually had to compete for children on the free market they’d do a better job of holding down costs and educating students. Which is their job

    Comment by Kevin — April 27, 2005 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  5. You have to test to get into parochial schools? That’s a new one to me. I live in NYC, and most parochial schools will take any student… BUT, if the student is causing too much trouble, they will throw said student out of the school.

    It is true you don’t need a teaching credential to teach at a parochial school, and they do pay less — but that’s a function of a couple things. The first thing is that little bit about being able to expel disruptive students. That makes the job more attractive, so it can pay less. And many times, parochial school teachers aren’t members of a union. Finally, many of the students at parochial schools are poor, so tuition is kept low and the schools are dependent on donations. However, this does not mean they can scrape up any person to fill a teaching post — I did not have a teaching credential, but the school I applied to for a job didn’t care… because I had a degree in math. As opposed to math education. I actually knew how to do a proof without a book.

    Anyway, that’s an interesting definition for conservative you’ve got there. Basically, being for public schools as they’ve always been is a conservative position. Being for school choice (it does not have to include vouchers or charter schools – just the ability to choose what public school to go to) is liberal. So I guess Democrats are now the conservative party when it comes to education. Clears a whole bunch of things up for me.

    Comment by meep — April 27, 2005 @ 12:55 pm | Reply

  6. Conservatives support public schools? Since when?

    I went to the a public highschool that just happened to have the second highest AP scores in the country. Tax dollars at work.

    We could argue back and forth about which system is better: public or private. There are arguments on either side. However, couching pro-voucher arguments in loaded language is misleading. To say that those who are opposed to vouchers are opposed to choice is simply spin. To imply that being a liberal is bad is ignorant. Further, to imply that people who have differing opinions aren’t logical is just stupid.

    My definition of conservative is an accurate one based on sociological, political and philosophical terminlology.

    Conservative: (def)in favor of preserving the status quo and traditional values and customs, and against abrupt change; somebody who is reluctant to consider new ideas or accept change

    It is the laymen who have distorted the meaning of that word. Kind of like the hijacking of the word logic by people that have no clue what logic is (not you Damon, just people in general). Further, I never used the labels “Republican” or “Democrat” anywhere in my comments. Those are not terms that are necessarily interchangeable with the terms “liberal” and “conservative.”

    I still don’t understand why it’s okay to demonize people who don’t believe that vouchers are the solution to our educational problems. Explain that one to me.

    Comment by Maria — April 27, 2005 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  7. Very interesting. Kudos on the blog, by the way.

    (Student’s last name removed by chairman of the bored.)

    Comment by Damien — April 27, 2005 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  8. Since when does having a curriculum guarantee an adequate education?

    I’ve been on curriculum committees and a lot of it boils down to what will draw the LEAST amount of challenges and lawsuits. That’s not learning.

    And since when does a credential guarantee a teacher’s ability to actaully TEACH their subject? It doesn’t. It guarantees that that person made it through a teacher-education program and a state-licensing process. Nothing more.

    Comment by HomefrontSix — April 28, 2005 @ 1:48 am | Reply

  9. Maria-

    You are basing your argument against charter schools on two very shaky propositions: (1) that the quality of education a school provides is directly proportional to the amount of funding it gets; and (2) the measure of the quality of education is most properly implemented by curriculum, standardized testing (AP scores, etc.) and “credentials”.

    Neither one of these concepts is fully supported by either data or experience. Funding for public schools has been monotonically increasing for decades, and yet the quality of education has not risen proportionally, and in fact in many cases has declined. And as a college professor, I can say uneqivocally that there is virtually no correlation between currently-supported “standards” (test scores, curriculum, accreditation standards, etc.) and the success of my students in college. (Which, by the way, seems to be a pretty good measure of the quality of a high school education at least for the demographic of students who go on to college.)

    What *does* correlate strongly with student success in college is work ethic, parental investment, intellectual curiosity, and academic rigor of the high school experience. ALL of these characteristics are supported by charter schools. Here in Indianapolis, where we have an increasingly large number of charters, parents line up around the block at 3:00 AM to get a chance to get their kids into the charter schools, as if they were lining up for tickets to a rock concert. I think that says something about how involved they’ll be in their kids’ education.

    Finally, your assessment of parochial schools is just flat-out wrong and highly misinformed. Without question, the best students we get at my college are the ones who went to Christian (including Catholic) high schools or were homeschooled, and every year the top performers at our high school math competition are the Christian schools. You seem to be thinking that the more teachers get paid, the better they teach. There is a grain of truth in that, but in general I think we all realize that money is not the issue — it’s passion for learning and compassion for students, which parochial schoolteachers possess in abundance no matter how much they get paid.

    So if the interest of the government is to improve *education*, then let it improve education *everywhere*. I think, though, that the real interest is to protect its *educational system* which is a different thing entirely.

    Comment by robert — April 28, 2005 @ 4:14 am | Reply

  10. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are being used too liberally.

    In the United States, these terms tend to mean almost the opposite as the terms “Liberal” and “Conservative” in the rest of the world. Similar to North Americans getting stuck in “inches” while the rest of the world uses metric, and yanks calling a game where people carry an egg-shaped pigskin “football” while the rest of world recognizes that the term “football” is more descriptive of a game in which a ball is meleed with a foot.

    “Liberal” parties represent free-market economic models, individual ownership of property and the promotion of capital investment. “Conservative” parties embrace the preservation of the institutions (such as the Roman Catholic Church, the passing-on of authority through family lines, and the association of the church and state) as well as the idea that the greater common good of the society is more important than individual profit. Thus, Conservative parties have protected the rights of indigenous property ownership without individual deeds, while the Liberals have expropriated land from indigenous peoples because they refused to buy into the concept of individualism or of land being property.

    Given these historical definitions, which have evoked carnage over centuries, we could redefine some of the argument over the relationship of communities which create charter schools, parochial schools, and state-administrated public education. The tightrope walk of balancing between the rights of each and every individual to have equal access to education, versus the rights of the communities and institutions to promote the greater good through the health of their traditional institutions, is not an easy walk for the most astute of minds. Thus, opinionating with labels which are tossed about like so many beanbags is not a major contribution to the kind of innovative reasoning our present dilemma requires.

    Furthermore, there is the question of motive, whether it be hormonal, emotional, personal security, or external profiteering. What are the interests of private capitalists businesses which are trying to dictate educational standards to schools, whining about the lack of quality in public education, while the quality of life of the majority of students is decreasing in proportion to the increases in CEO bonuses and shareholder avarice?

    Nah… let’s go back to beanbagging each other with misnomers. Teachers are too sedentary to revolutionize anything, too mentally lazy to think about much of anything besides their specialty subjects and their favorite sports teams.

    (Just kidding!)

    Comment by Marco — April 28, 2005 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  11. Thank you all for your comments.

    Maria,
    I realize that schools would have to meet some sort of standards~whether it be curriculum, teacher qualifications, etc. I also realize there are a lot of dysfunctional private schools. But don’t forget there are A LOT of dysfunctional public schools…I’ve even worked at some of them.

    Everyone,
    Perhaps I should not have used the word “liberal.” I just think it is ironic that the supposedly liberal institutions, especially the teacher unions, are opposed to changes…

    Comment by Damon — April 30, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Reply


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