Barring the Exits

Yesterday, Diane Ravitch posted a reader’s proposal to end school choice.

The fact that public alternatives and charters have many good teachers and leaders and involved parents is, itself, the strongest argument against public charters and alternatives. Those are the very resources needed by neighborhood schools to make them what they need to be.

In response to a similarly themed article last year (liberal parents have a responsibility to stay in public schools and make them better for everyone), Chris at A Blog About School blogged about the idea that there are two ways for people to try to influence institutions: voice and exit.  I think Chris correctly noted that these types of proposals presume that public schools will be responsive to involved parents speaking up and make changes for the better.

However, state and federal involvement in public education have insulated decision-makers from political accountability, which means that when parents find themselves on a different page or different side from the school they can find speaking up to be an exercise in frustration that results in little or no improvement.  And I think this drives, at least in part, the increasing interest in school choice; exit may be the only alternative to achieve an acceptable situation for their child in the short term and may provide the only pressure for the public schools to change in the long term.

In other words, without systemic change to strengthen political accountability, barring the exits only serves to preserve the status quo that those involved parents are supposed to be brought back to change.  


2 thoughts on “Barring the Exits

  1. Chris Liebig

    I completely agree that the lack of meaningful community control over school policy plays a big part in people’s desires for options like charter schools, not to mention the desire for private schools and homeschooling. You sometimes hear proposals to ban private schools and homeschooling, too, to force everyone into the same boat for the good of all. But I think it would be a big mistake to give any one entity a monopoly on education, and would likely make the public system even less responsive to what people want.

    Still, I find school choice — even in the ideal — problematic, because it is inherently in tension with the idea of the neighborhood school, which I think is valuable, and because I do think it is probably more easily taken advantage of by people with money. But I admit that it would be a harder issue if we were talking about real school choice, instead of a bogus choice among a limited number of uniformly test-driven “alternatives.”

    Before completely restructuring the public school system, why not try decentralizing school policy and providing meaningful local control over educational goals and philosophy? Isn’t that the *less* radical approach, both more “liberal” and more “conservative”? Especially since, under real local control, individual communities could experiment with school choice if they wanted to. When did the idea of laboratories of democracy get exchanged for the idea of nationwide uniformity?

  2. Dr. Trace Pickering

    I agree with Chris. Real choice comes at the student level. What if I got to choose the adults who I wanted to learn from? What if I had a set of competencies I had to learn to graduate and could, with my parents, connect with the teachers and mentors who were best at helping me achieve them. We say we want innovative and responsive schools but then refuse to provide the structures that would actually allow schools to be innovative and responsive. Like the Gallup guy Brandon Brunsheen said yesterday, “Our system is neutralizing our best teachers. We are focused more on a standardized curriculum when what we need is an individualized one.”

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