Choice proponents: What about the children left behind?
Joanne Jacobs, a promoter of charter schools, has a piece today promoting vouchers. Those are certainly two of the top two items on the list of those who consider themselves "educational reformers." I think there are situations in which vouchers are appropriate, and I also have to acknowledge that there are some charter schools that do some wonderful things. Nevertheless, I don't think anyone would consider me to be a big fan of either, so I have a question for those who are. What about the children left behind?
Charter schools and private schools have a definite advantage over the public schools that are the objects of the reformers scorn. Any student who attends charter or private schools are there because their parents have decided that they wanted their children to attend that particular school. That, in itself, indicates that the parents have some interest in their children's education. Students at public schools, on the other hand, are assigned to them. Some parents might want their kids to go to a particular public school, but there will also be a number of students whose parents couldn't care less. That means that any private or charter school, at least to some extent, is skimming the cream.
There is one thing that successful private and charter schools have in common, and that is good discipline. The bottom line of the good discipline those schools have is a certain reality that has to be in the back of students', parents', and teachers' minds: If a student doesn't meet the behavioral and performance standards of the school, he or she will be gone. In Sweating the Small Stuff, a book about six successful inner-city schools, a teacher is quoted as telling a misbehaving student, "If you're going to act like that, you won't be able to stay here."
If we take a kid out of an inner-city school that isn't doing well, and put him into a situation where all of the students have parents who wanted them to go to that school, and the school is able to maintain good discipline, how can the student not do better? The one thing that is amazing to me is that the results from studies comparing kids who have gone to voucher and charter schools with those who have remained in public schools are not more clear.
In any case, in a public school district that is not particularly good, I can certainly understand a parent wanting to send their child elsewhere. But once all the parents who want to do that pull their kids out of that public school, what do you have left? Do we just write off the kids who remain? What ever happened to No Child Left Behind?
The argument that "choice" advocates make is that the competition will force the public schools to improve. Balderdash! Even Sol Stern, who made that argument in a book a few years ago has finally come to the conclusion that that doesn't happen.
Whether you are for choice or against it, doesn't it make sense to give public schools the same power in dealing with their students--and therefore to maintain good discipline--that the good private and charter schools have? Wouldn't all kids be better off if we did that?