Parental choice pays off for students

As readers of this column know, I support parental choice even though I recognize its downsides.  The latest evidence comes from Miami-Dade, the nation’s fifth-largest school district (“Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho rides the choice wave to student success,” Education Next).

Seventy-four percent of students in K-12 in the district attend schools other than those assigned to them.  This includes charter schools, private schools and magnet schools, and makes makes Miami-Dade the district with more choices than any other.  As a result, black and Hispanic students in the district outpace the state in performance on reading and math tests.

I realize that correlation is not causation.  It may just be that other factors other than choice alone explain the impressive results. But at a time when districts across the nation have had little success shrinking the achievement gap between blacks, Hispanics and others, it’s worthwhile asking if choice is the answer.  If so, then perhaps even opponents will change their minds.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

4 Replies to “Parental choice pays off for students”

  1. No — not until the charters and/or privates conduct the gold standard experiment of taking over and operating a low-SES low-test-score neighborhood public school enrolling exactly the same students who previously attended the school and only those students.

    Common sense and objective evidence teaches that the overwhelming majority of charters (as well as voucher-supported privates) have teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services that are inferior to those provided in the neighborhood public schools. There is little/no reason to believe that these charters/privates are better schools than the neighborhood public schools.

    However, there is every reason to believe that the charters/privates enroll better students than the neighborhood public schools — by virtue of the charters’/privates’ enroll-via-application aspect that passively screens out the children of the unconcerned/dysfunctional parents.

    The charters/privates enroll better students. They therefore will often have higher test scores than the neighborhood public schools — because the stronger students do better on tests than the weaker students and because they are better behaved than the “problem” students so the charters/privates have less chaotic classrooms, which, in turn, enables the charter/private teachers to teach more effectively.

    If an inner-city parent’s only options are 1) a non-chaotic charter/private with inferior teachers, curriculum, facilities, and support services but stronger/better-behaved students, and 2) a chaotic neighborhood public school with superior teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services but weaker/misbehaving students, then many/most concerned/functional inner-city parents will rationally choose the charter/private. I would.

    But, it’s obvious that neither of these options are ideal. Everyone would be better off if a single school offered superior teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services as well as stronger/well-behaved students. The answer is to eliminate the charters/voucher-supported privates and instead reinstate tracking in the neighborhood public schools.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: There’s no question that charter schools operate by a completely different set of rules than traditional public schools. That’s why they often post far better outcomes. They are not intrinsically superior. But parents deserve the right to choose the school that best meets their own children’s needs and interests. That’s why I support parental choice.

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  3. Agree that parents deserve the right to choose the school that best meets their own child’s needs/interests. But, the issue here is not “parental choice” but rather the issue is “what choices will the govt provide”.

    In most inner-cities, the govt offers two choices — the neighborhood public school and charters. (In some inner-cities, the govt offers a third choice — tax-payer-funded vouchers to be used at private schools; ignore them for now.)

    Neither the neighborhood public school nor the charter is an optimum choice. As explained in my above comment, the neighborhood public (with its no-tracking rules) will have chaotic classes in which teachers have to teach at several widely divergent achievement levels and in which there are almost always a few “problem” kids who will regularly disrupt instruction. But, the neighborhood schools will have better teachers, facilities, curriculum and support services than the charters. The charters (with their enroll-via-parent-application and counsel-out/expel rules) will have relatively well-behaved classes in which there will be no or only a very few “problem” kids (and those will be counseled-out/expelled). But, the charters will have weaker teachers, facilities, curriculum and support services than the neighborhood public schools.

    Saying charters give parents a choice is like saying that a restaurant that serves soup with either no salt or too much salt gives diners a choice. Yes — there is a choice, but neither choice is as good as it could be if the restaurant offered soup with a moderate amount of salt.

    Reinstate tracking in the neighborhood public school. Then, parents can have soup with the right amount of salt.

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  4. Labor Lawyer: Parental choice has always existed because of the existence of private and religious schools. What is new is the choice open to them in the form of charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. No system is perfect, but we have to start somewhere. I support tracking, but even that will not satisfy everyone.

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