Monday, December 20, 2004

An extra ration of grog for King

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:55 PM |  

Over at SCSU Scholars, King Banian has an excellent post on the Maxfield controversy that reminds us why we sailed on this voyage in the first place -- accountability.

Citing data from the Minnesota Department of Education report card for Maxfield [Note: Yes, King I had the data], King concludes that “there’s plenty of money in the St. Paul School District. He goes on --
The accountability problem that Westover describes is what I would call an allocation problem. In what do you invest these funds? The debate over textbooks or reading materials misses a key point -- books themselves do not produce education. They must be complemented with other inputs. Textbooks must be complemented with teachers . . . . Reading materials for students to take home require a parent to be sure the material is read. . . . . Here's the question then --

What is Coleman assuming in thinking a book drive for extra books for kids to take home will accomplish? If the parents do not supervise, if the child's social pressures are such that academics is denigrated (Bill Cosby, call your office!), and if teachers cannot find creative ways to use those books, they may simply collect dust. Again: Just handing a child a book to take home and read does not guarantee better reading scores. A book requires a structure within which it is read, understood and discussed to help with comprehension, and along with it the development of a culture of learning. Otherwise it's no more effective than free condoms.
The excellent point King makes is my departure point for advocating school choice. It’s not just the money that goes into a school, the variety of classes and extra-curricular activities or the “diversity” that is important. If parents see that a school is simply not working -- that is not providing the kind of support for materials that King describes -- those parents should have the real option of choosing another school, regardless of family income.

“Accountability” is more than assigning blame without consequence. School choice provides instant accountability in that if parents at any school aren’t happy -- which is infinitely more important than whether Mr. Coleman is or I am pleased -- they should have the immediate option to transfer to a government school, charter school, private school or religious school of their choosing.

Give King the last word --

I come down squarely with Westover then that the question is one of accountability. Asking for it is why Maxfield Principal Zelda Wiley screamed bloody murder to the PioneerPress and gave the StarTribune a free pass . . . And Coleman has swung and missed three times now on the question. If Maxfield is burning, money isn't the answer. Indeed, it might be the fuel.