School choice is local, too
Rick Hess makes a great deal of sense in his critique of Diane Ravitch (and this bit echoes what Mark Thompson has pushed in the comments, arguments I also find compelling):
A lack of choice can force educators to simultaneously serve families with very different demands and responses to discipline or calls for parental involvement, making it difficult to establish common norms. A lack of autonomy makes it difficult for principals to assemble a team of teachers who embrace shared expectations and instructional principles. The institutional and political turbulence endemic to school systems means that superintendents change jobs every few years, and district priorities and initiatives change along with them. Bureaucratic and contractual rules governing discipline, the school day, or professional development can trip up district leaders seeking to emulate effective school models.
Organizational focus and instructional coherence are made vastly more difficult than they need to be by our K-12 systems, with their "little-bit-of-everything" mission, geographic monopoly, industrial era contracts and staffing arrangements, ill-defined aims, balky governance structures, contested disciplinary arrangements, and the rest. Choice and accountability, at their core, are an opportunity to create systems where focus and coherence are easier to come by and where robust curricula, powerful pedagogy, and rich learning can thrive.
I think this is all very true. But on the flip side, I think that in the push for more accountability and more choice, we open a Pandora’s box of sorts, really allowing room for more federal involvement in our schools, less autonomy, and so forth. There is a very real chance that in our Race to the Top, we end up racing directly to a new level of mediocrity.
There are a number of other very real detractions from the school choice movement, including the way the government could insert itself even into private institutions (see: Canada) as well as the very real possibility that the most talented students will be siphoned out of the public school system into an ad hoc network of charters and for-profit schools.
That being said, I’m all for re-structuring our schools to be less like industrial-era monoliths and more responsive to parents, students, and teachers alike. If school choice really does lead to more autonomy and fewer standardized tests, I’m all for it. If it really can avoid the dangers of a national curriculum, I’d be sold on it.
I just think, like Hess mentions, that school choice has been seen as too much a panacea and not as a means to an end. And not enough public schools have learned from the success of their charter counterparts, either.
There is no silver bullet in education reform. I will stick to my mantra: Education is local. That includes school choice!
You’ve persuaded at least me that trade schools should have a bigger role in our overall educational system, but wouldn’t their expanded prominence also attract students with aptitude for those trades? How is siphoning off the pre-college smart kids into a school focused on the continuance of academics study not just an academic trade school?
That’s a good question. However, I’m much less interested in trade schools, per say, as I am in the concept of apprenticeship programs. What I envision would be schools partnering directly with the local community to develop on-the-job apprenticeship opportunities for students who weren’t on the “academic” track. This would take place in 11th grade. They would still attend some classes in school, but would spend a portion of their day working in the community and learning relevant skills as well.
I think that ‘mainstreaming’ students works as long as their are extra opportunities for ‘gifted’ students to be challenged in higher level courses at a certain point in their education as well, and special-resource classes for ‘challenged’ students. I don’t think 100% mainstreaming would work for a variety of reasons, but I do think we should move toward greater integration.