Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sen. Alexander's Choice

A reminder that if you've been thinking that Lamar Alexander is going to emerge as a public school champion, well, not so much.

Alexander spoke at Brookings (never a good sign, because what Brookings doesn't understand about education would fill a Death Star) at the release of their Education Choice and Competition Index. Arianna Prothero provides a handy short version of his remarks over at EdWeek, and the even shorter version of those remarks is "School choice is awesome and magical."

Alexander would like to "put money in the kid's backpack," because of course education is not a public trust for all citizens of the country, but a private service for families that just happens to be funded by public tax dollars.

Alexander also lays out four Things The Feds Should Do To Help School Choice.
  1. Allow states to use federal dollars to create scholarships to follow low-income students to any school of their choice;
  2. Allow students with disabilities to spend the federal dollars allocated to them on schools of their choice;
  3. Expand the District of Columbia's school voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is funded by Congress;
  4. Encourage the expansion of high-quality charter schools in the states through federal grant programs.
The first three are the same old same old charter policies that have been around long enough to prove themselves, but haven't yet. The fourth could be roughly translated as "throw money at charter schools," because we continue to believe that throwing money at public schools is a terrible, useless thing, throwing money at private businesses is awesome and makes wonderful things happen.

But I want to go back to the first two for a second, because I think they have a backhanded kind of promise.

Note the phrase "of their choice."

As we've been noting for some time, school choice usually turns out to actually mean school's choice. Only Mike Petrilli at the Fordham is honest enough to 'fess up to this, but most charters reserve the right to determine who is deserving.

Imagine what might happen if the feds threw their weight behind that "of their choice" language. Imagine what might happen if charters could not turn away students who wanted to attend, no matter what. Imagine what would happen if a low-income student or a student with disabilities could not be turned down, if they could say, "I choose this charter school" and the charter school could not say no or chase them away or counsel them out or push them toward the door. Imagine if that were part of federal charter law.

I don't expect that charter operators would let such a thing happen without a fight, but it would be an awfully hard point to argue in public. Such a rule would be disastrous for modern charters, whose whole model of success rests on their ability to take and keep only the students they pick and choose.

I am no fan of school choice. But in most places we don't even have that; we have a charter system that allows the schools to do the choosing and the students just have to take what they are given, and as much as a school choice system would stink, a school's choice system is even worse.

Let's see if Alexander wants to take a real whack at that problem.

1 comment:

  1. I think there's a recurring theme here: We're willing to give you a hand up, but only if you can prove you deserve it. You can have nice schools (if they choose you), you can go to community college free (if you graduate "on time" and keep your grades up). You behave, we'll give you access - on our terms. Step out of line, and back to public school with you.