Sunday, April 12, 2015

School Choice Misconceptions Aired

School choice misconceptions aired

In her March 6 editorial, Newport School Superintendent Dr. Cindy
Gallagher implied that withdrawing three Croydon students from Newport
schools caused a million-dollar budget shortfall and the elimination of
19 jobs. While there must be more to the budget story, it does provide a
useful example of the difficulty of discussing the benefits and
challenges of school choice.

I would like to address some misconceptions that get in the way of understanding the potential of school choice. These include:

1) School choice is not equitable. 'Equitable' does not mean
'equal.' The wealthy always have more choices than the poor, and work
to maintain that advantage. But linking a child's educational choices to
the best home his parents can afford may be the least equitable method
of schooling that one could invent. If our choices for food, clothing,
medical care, automotive service, or anything else were limited in this
way, no one would stand for it. But this is how government allocates
the single most important need of families: education. And by chasing
an equality that can't even in theory be reached, we give up the
opportunity to pursue whatever standard of competence could in practice
be achieved.

2) Stability is desirable. Hoping to prepare students for the 21st
century world of constant change by keeping them in an institution that
resists change at all costs is self-defeating. We can no longer afford
to do this. Dinosaurs required stability; mammals didn't. That's why
mammals are still around.

3) Stability is achievable. Disruptive technologies are increasingly
used by global entrepreneurs to topple outdated monopolies — whether in
transportation (think Uber), entertainment (remember Blockbuster?),
telecommunications, journalism ... or public schooling.

4) Businesses can adjust to changes more easily than public
schools. Quite the opposite. While private businesses have many of the
same fixed costs that schools have, schools have the advantage of being
able to tax their neighbors to cover the kinds of misjudgments that
would put any other business out of business.

5) In order to provide something, government must produce it. In no
other area of public assistance do we make this strange assumption. When
people can’t afford food, government doesn’t build and run farms — it
provides food stamps. When people can’t afford health care, government
doesn’t build and run hospitals — it provides Medicaid. When people
can’t afford to school their children, why should the government build
and run schools, when it could address the issue with 'school stamps' or

6) Voting is an opportunity to make a difference. Voting is an
indirect, inefficient, and if you're in the minority, utterly
ineffective way to make any kind of change to your own life. Selecting a
suitable school for your child, on the other hand, is a very direct,
immediate, and effective way to make a difference in the life of that

School choice is spreading around the country, creating competition,
lowering costs, and increasing quality. Online education is already
here, with some of the highest-quality resources available for free.
Charter and magnet schools offer new approaches to learning. Disruptive
changes like these add urgency to questions like, ‘Would a different
school provide a better education for my child?’ and, 'Why is my town
paying $2,000 per child for a history class every year, when we could
buy a better course from the Teaching Company for $69.95, let students
share it, and re-use it year after year?'

Having long-term relationships with surrounding school districts is
very important. It is also important that receiving schools meet the
needs of their students. Competition through school choice will help
these schools meet those needs. It will also get parents more involved
in their children’s education, which research has shown to be one of the
most important factors in students’ academic success.

To seize these opportunities, we need to take a realistic view of the
kinds of changes that are going on in every other area of life, and
stop pretending that public schools can survive by just ignoring them. I
look forward to working with Dr. Gallagher to get ahead of the tide of
change, instead of waiting around to be drowned by it.

Jody Underwood is a member of the Croydon School Board. All letters will be received in care of the editor.

The above piece appears as it appeared in full in the Eagle Times Newspaper.   Cathy

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