[Homestead] Free Choice not free choice if no seats to move into.
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 14 21:03:21 EDT 2004
Charter Schools are a mixed bag---transferring to a "better" school
within the Public School System or from a Public School to a "better"
Charter School is completely without meaning if the "better" school has
no seats for the hopeful transferring students.
It is a lot easier and more effective to move a better faculty (and
fewer redundant administrators) to a school, any school, than to move
students forty miles from home.
The Christian Science Monitor - csmonitor.com
from the September 07, 2004 edition -
Can competition really improve schools?
*By Teresa Méndez* | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
When an economist first introduced the idea in the 1950s, it was a
notion both controversial and contentious. Education, he argued, was a
commodity like any other, and would benefit from fierce, free-market
It was a fairly simple idea: Parents and children should become
consumers, and schools the product. If a school isn't up to snuff,
parents move their children to a better one. Thus good schools flourish
and bad ones are forced to improve, or else fall away.
Choice has since become the driving force behind much of education
reform in the United States. Charter schools, school vouchers, and the
ability to remove kids from failing schools are all attempts to let
public education benefit from giving families more choice.
But the theory of choice has faced some difficult reality checks of
late. Studies don't necessarily support the claims that students will
perform better either in charter schools or in private schools made
accessible by vouchers. At the same time, the idea that students should
be free to leave failing public schools is bumping up against the simple
reality that there are not enough seats in good schools to go around.
It's causing some to ask if the growth of the choice movement may not be
outpacing evidence of its efficacy.
"While choice is not bad for the individual kids or parents, our
experience in New York is that it has done little or nothing to improve
neighborhood schools," says Clara Hemphill, director of
*www.insideschools.org* and author of several guides to the city's best
public schools. If anything, she says, "it has drained some of the
vitality and excitement from neighborhood schools."
Ms. Hemphill says she isn't against choice, "it's just that the market
metaphor doesn't work. And I think the New York experience of 30 years
is clear on that."
But for many others, choice remains the bedrock of education reform - a
tenet not even to be questioned.
"I don't think the debate should be choice or no choice. I think that's
absurd," says Henry Levin, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia
University. "It's how we do choice."
Choice, of course, can't be viewed as a monolith. It's best understood
as a continuum of options beneath the larger umbrella of school choice.
They range from vouchers - which, with little government oversight,
allow parents to use taxpayer money at any school, including private or
religious - to open enrollment where children may choose from any public
school within a certain area, whether a district, city, or even state.
Charter schools, independent public schools that operate with greater
autonomy than traditional schools in exchange for a promise to perform,
fit somewhere in between. Each has its proponents and detractors, so
that a supporter of charter schools, for example, may at the same time
But even as the school choice movement surges forward - charter schools
can currently be found in 38 states and are expected to be in all states
by the end of the decade; 46 states offer open enrollment, up from 32
last year - experts are cautioning that the research to support such
robust growth simply isn't there.
Data released last month by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT),
indicating that reading and math scores of charter school students on
the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress lag behind their
traditional public school peers, has had the education world up in arms.
In an unusual move, a group of 31 scholars signed on to an ad in The New
York Times, where the study first appeared, criticizing its methodology
and taking issue with the newspaper's "uncritical coverage."
This week, Caroline M. Hoxby, a professor of economics at Harvard
University and one of the undersigned on the Times ad, will release her
own more comprehensive study - looking at students in 99.5 percent of
charter schools across the country. Professor Hoxby's findings, based on
test scores from the same year as the AFT study, show charter school
students outperforming traditional public school students in both
reading and math.
But in states such as North Carolina, other findings are in line with
the AFT results. Helen Ladd, an economics and public policy professor at
Duke University, compared gains in test scores made by students in
charter schools with those made by the same students while they were in
public schools - and found the students performing worse in the charter
With research that's at best contradictory, it's difficult to know how
charter schools are performing. For some, this is particularly troubling
as President Bush's cornerstone education act, No Child Left Behind,
matures. By 2007 sanctions for struggling schools will have kicked in,
and those that have failed to meet standards will face, among other
things, conversion to charter schools.
The same question mark hanging over charters also punctuates the larger
idea of competition among public schools. "One of the issues that we're
looking at, but still haven't seen studies to prove, is the idea that
competition is the better answer," says Luis Huerta, a professor at
Columbia University's Teachers College, who, nonetheless says
competition is "a good thing."
Following an extensive look at New Zealand's decade-long experiment with
parent choice and competition, Professor Ladd and her husband wrote
"When Schools Compete: A Cautionary Tale," which foreshadows some of the
problems the US is now struggling with, namely not enough seats in
Still, Ladd says she hopes that "we'll draw on some of the good insights
from market-based reform in education."
A tangle of complications has also arisen with open enrollment, one of
the oldest and least controversial forms of choice that, according to
Cathy Christie of the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States,
has come to be accepted as the norm.
This year, 12,000 to 14,000 students in New York City - the nation's
largest school system where students may choose from 290 high schools -
had no idea in June where they would attend school come fall. Even as
the city's education department expanded the number of schools that new
ninth-graders could request to attend, some 94,000 students were vying
for slots in the most coveted few.
For those able to afford it, choice has long been a part of American
education. Parents with the means and wherewithal select neighborhoods
to live in based on the quality of schools, and pick up and move if
school performance plunges. At its purest, the school choice movement is
trying to bring those same options to low-income and minority families.
"The issue then becomes, for me, should all families have the same
choice that upper and middle class Americans have," says Ted Sizer,
visiting professor of education at Harvard and Brandeis universities.
"Or should the system remain as it is, giving mobility to those who
could buy it and leaving the rest as they are."
However, Alex Molnar, director of the Education Policy Studies
Laboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe, argues that the idea of
choice in education is fundamentally flawed. Schools, he says, are
"social institutions, not boxes of wheat flakes." Treating them as just
another market commodity will never work, he argues.
Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College in
Pennsylvania and author of "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,"
agrees. He sees the marketing of education as a "reflection of just how
much the ideology of the market as the solution to all problems has
penetrated our culture."
Professor Schwartz's research focuses on what he calls "the tyranny of
choice" - the destructive psychological toll that a preponderance of
options can take. "It seems to me that choice would have to improve the
quality of education a lot to be worth the price parents pay," he says.
And while the question of whether choice has in fact improved education
has yet to be answered, others say the real concern is that as the
choice movement forges ahead, becoming ever more politicized, ideology
may come to trump experience.
Despite the numerous studies that emerge, supporting one side or the
other, the question of school choice is "not going to be settled on the
basis of evidence," says Professor Levin. "Because at the bedrock, at
the foundation, it's like window dressing to use these studies to move
in one direction or the other. People pick up the evidence that supports
Full HTML version of this story which may include photos, graphics, and
related links <http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0907/p12s01-legn.html>
www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2004 The Christian Science Monitor. All
For permission to reprint/republish this article, please email Copyright
More information about the Homestead