Wednesday, October 06, 2004

“Time to update school choice program”

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:03 AM |  

In a fortunate juxtaposition, the same day my column making a case for the value of school choice the institutional editorial in the Pioneer Press urges reform of the “fundamentally flawed” school-choice system in St. Paul Public Schools.

Albeit unintentionally, the editorial supports a major contention of my column that without the completive burr of real school choice, centralized education is "glacial, unpredictable and easily sidetracked."

Pulling a few facts and some implications from the editorial and Tuesday‘s Pioneer Press:

First, kudos to the school board for noticing that school choice was having an impact on “neighborhood schools” and transportation costs. Last spring, Superintendent Pat Harvey formed a 38-member task force to prepare an overview of school choice at the elementary level.
However, ever try to get 38 people to agree on anything? According to Tuesday’s Pioneer Press “nothing in the report is even called a recommendation.” Apparently, the “recommendations” referred to in the Pioneer Press editorial were merely “suggestions.” Whatever, the reality is that at this time there isn’t a decision, and “any changes are more than a year away”

According to Kent Pekel, the district's director of strategic planning, the pace of any possible changes in the choice system “could be seen as glacial, but that’s by design” [emphasis added].

Ostensibly and intelligently, the slow pace is being taken to avoid upsetting current parents with big changes that would force a wholesale relocation of students to new schools. But it should be obvious that such an approach doesn’t solve the problem. Frankly, I don’t think centralized education can.

“School choice” as it exists today is school choice within the existing system augmented by charter schools and magnet schools, which are also part of the centralized system. What is needed is “school choice” that doesn’t financially penalize (with the double whammy of taxes and tuition) parents who want to remove their children from a system that changes “glacially” and place them in more innovative private schools. There no reason for public schools to proceed faster without competitive pressure.

A mixed system of strong public schools including magnet and charter schools, supported by parents who choose those schools, and vibrant private schools competing for students, is ultimately the answer. The alternative is “ice-age” education reform -- by design.

Read my column . . . .