School Choice: Great Catch Phrase Built on a False Analogy

I recently attended an extremely educational session in Lafayette about Common Core and its various tentacles: school choice, data mining, teacher evaluations, and student testing. I want to focus today on the first two words, or school choice.

Education won’t be improved by simple-sounding phrases like school choice.

School choice sounds lovely, but it derives from a false analogy.

When I go Christmas shopping, I have the luxury of comparison buying. I can look for a certain item, find it in three different stores, compare the prices, and then proceed to buy the lowest priced item. Hence the capitalist, market-based economy prevails, and I get the best bargain.

That is not the proper analogy for educating our children. Education does not follow market-style pressures. Schools are not clumped together in the same area of town like stores in a mall. Often they are dispersed haphazardly, dictated by uneven city growth over decades. The school buildings remain even if the population demographics change and property values fluctuate. School districts reflect fixed areas with populations of differing social and economic situations, and political persuasions. Re-zoning school districts has become the new political, hot-topic button that school board members are wary of touching.

Governor Bobby Jindal, Superintendent of Education John White, and other proponents of voucher-style systems have created this false analogy that schools can operate like a market. Keep the best schools open, close the schools that fail. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? If your child is in a “failing” school—which Louisiana stretches to include C-level institutions—then why can’t they be switched to another higher level school? They have couched the phrase “school choice” with a wholesome picture of loving parents who only want the best for their kids. They have carefully positioned the argument into an “us versus them” mentality, the haves versus the have nots.

I am not defending those schools that cannot fulfill their mission, but there are many factors that affect that mission, and the final answer can’t rely on just student scores. The truly difficult and courageous option would be improving all Louisiana schools, especially those in economically-distressed areas. Those schools with A or B rankings are doing something right, so forcing them to abandon their successful programs for the untested, one-size-fits-all Common Core is ludicrous. The state should focus on the schools in the bottom rankings and work to improve those instead of siphoning away necessary funds to remove students from those schools and send them elsewhere. In the latest round of school rankings, the entire voucher program got a significant black eye by scoring on par or worse than public school institutions. All this time and effort to pull students from failing schools … to place them in different failing schools is insane. (Sounds like a solid plan to get elected President of the United States, doesn’t it?) Even more disturbing was the fact that many private or charter institutions cannot even be evaluated, so there is little accountability for the voucher program.

Educating our youth is complicated and depends on so many factors that state tests will never evaluate effectively. Education won’t be improved by simple-sounding phrases like school choice.


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