Sunday, July 03, 2005

Missing the point as Nick Coleman can

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:04 PM |  

Nick Coleman has written two columns intended to bash charter and private schools in recent weeks that are, despite their tone and intent, worth a read.

The first deals with Academy of Holy Angels refusal to admit a child with MS. Today his column is about Veritas Academy, a proposed charter school emphasizing conservative values, which will not open this fall due to a lack of interested students.

Because Nick sees the charter schools, private schools, and traditional public schools as separate systems rather than as commingled elements of a single, broad, diverse public education system, he misses the point of his own stories.

Holy Angels, for what it thought was the best interests of both the school and the student, told the parents of a child with MS that the school was not equipped (or was not willing) to accept responsibility for their son. That decision, according to Coleman cost the school a large contribution. And that’s the way the market works. Holy Angels is going to have to do some reevaluation of its policies, possibly change them, depending on how parents and benefactors react and how the decision is reflected in future enrollments. Should it make changes, you can be damn well sure the changes will be real -- they have real consequences -- and not just a cosmetic effort that only gives the illusion of action.

The same in the case of Veritas Academy. The market said there is no demand for this type of education in this area at this time. If Veritas Academy were a public school program (remember the Profile of Learning?), it would likely have been pushed through anyway, huge amounts of money expended while it functioned ineffectively on its way to an expensive demise. Veritas died rather cheaply.

Contrast that with a one-size fits all school system. What are the options for parents that disagree with the high-stakes testing policies being implemented as part of No Child Left Behind? What can a parent do that feels the state standards are politically biased? What happens if a parent that objects to an International Baccalaureate program based on continental European values being taught in public schools? There are no viable options and there are no real consequences for schools pushing “radical“ ideas when parents have no viable alternatives.

A problem in a private school or trouble with a charter school diminishes “public education” every bit as much as the dismal graduation rates in district schools and failure of public schools to close the achievement gap. None of these situations is anything to gloat about -- if the concern is kids and not systems; if the concern is public education and not creating winners and losers; if the concern is education not power.

That is a little much, however, to expect Nick to understand, but hopefully his readers are a tad bit more insightful.

Update: Matt Abe has an update on Veritas Academy that bodes well for the proposed Charter School and illustrates the difference between public education in the broad sense and government schools in the narrow sense. King at SCSU Scholars reinforces that point.