Robert Pondiscio and I have been having a conversation (a statemennt which is true on almost any given day) that started in the comments section of this post, and then continued in this post. You can go back and read the full thing, or you can settle for my somewhat glib abbreviated version:
Me: School disciplinary codes are codified versions of someone's values system.
Pondiscio: Exactly! That's why we need school choice.
This is another version of a conversation I've had with well-intentioned people within the reformster world (yes, I believe there are such folks." Basically, we agree on problems, but disagree on solutions. Pondiscio writes:
When we seek to establish, valorize, or impose one set of beliefs about
student discipline as the “right” one, we are functionally communicating
that all others are “wrong.” Greene’s recognition of the values-laden
nature of discipline systems all but begs for choice: Parents should be
able to weigh, as one factor among many, schools whose philosophy about
behavior management, classroom culture, and approach to student
discipline most closely mirror their own beliefs and practices.
I'm with him for one sentence-- then we part ways. As with many features and problems of schools, I think public schools are better positioned to respond to the problem. Here's why:
First, the "one factor among many" issue means that parents will not be perfectly happy with a choice school, because "traditional disciplinary method with strong science program and a good band with friendly teachers and a good location and..." gets to be a tough order to fill. So compromises will be made.
But two-- a private/charter/choice school generally offers less flexibility and less opportunity to negotiate. If you like certain aspects of Catholic school education, but you don't want your children exposed to all the Catholic Jesus stuff, there's no board member to call, no administrator to talk to, no accommodations to be called for, no hope in hell that you'll get what you want. Likewise, many charter schools can afford to be completely unresponsive-- they have no government mandate to serve all students and as I've outlined elsewhere, their bus8iness model means they are largely insulated from the "market pressures" that are supposed to force them to change. They don't have to make everyone happy-- they just need to fill a certain number of seats.
So if, for instance, you are a parent who wants to put your child in a charter that has been sold as a high-achieving, send-your-child-to-college academic powerhouse, but once you get there, you discover a no excuses atmosphere that is soul-killing for your child, you can try to contact a board member, or talk to an administrator-- but they aren't going to change a thing for you or your child. Don't like it? There's the door.
Reform fans talk about parent choice. But parents only ever get to choose from the offerings made available to them. It's the people who set up charters and private schools that get to exercise their choices.
Are there public schools where the values are rigid and inflexible? Sure, and that's often inexcusable, but just as citizens of Phoenix could mobilize to oust a racist, lawbreaking sheriff, voters can replace their school board members with those who represent a different philosophy. Public schools always have available avenues for change and growth and reconciling multiple viewpoints. Charter and choice schools mostly do not.
There are always going to be values that are nearly impossible to have coexist-- most notably it's hard to reconcile the value of a pluralistic community that allows for different views and the value that says "there is one right path and everyone must follow it." And if we did charters right (which currently we absolutely don't, but that's a hundred other posts) this is one area in which they would be useful. Maybe. I have misgivings still.
I have misgivings because a rigid winner-take-all approach just mirrors the similar hardening of political lines in our society, and I don't notice that really making the country a better place. But in the end, while I think I understand Pondiscio's point, I believe that public schools ultimately offer more choice under their sloppy, messy, many-faceted roof than charter/choice schools which are brittle and inflexible.