kitchen table math, the sequel: What would happen if parents had choice?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What would happen if parents had choice?

This question has come up in the comments thread of "If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra."

I strongly support choice, partly because Ed and I had sufficient income to exercise choice by, first, moving to a district we couldn't afford* (because we thought affluent suburbs had private school education at public school prices)** and, second, withdrawing our 'neurotypical' son from our public school and enrolling him in a Jesuit high school.

Choice number 2 was the best money we ever spent.

As a simple matter of fairness, I believe that if we had choice, other parents should have choice, too.

How school choice would turn out is another question, and I certainly agree with froggiemama that the prospect of public schools taking the path colleges and universities have taken (more, more amenities) gives me the willies.

On the other hand, we do have evidence from other Western countries that I think should be part of the conversation.

We also have evidence from Project Follow-Through, in which low-income parents chose Direct Instruction over progressive education (must rustle up the link - sorry it's not here).

My two favorite what-do-parents-want stories:
Which reminds me: I recall reading that the U.S. has the least free school system among Western countries . . . is that the case? I no longer remember where I picked that up.

In any event, it's definitely the case that a number of Western countries fund parochial schools (or fund parents who want to send their children to parochial schools).

Also germane to the discussion: Andrew Cuomo is supporting tax credits for school choice.
In his fifth State of the State speech, the governor also called for an education tax credit for donations to public schools or scholarship funds that aid students in parochial schools, a top priority of Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
Cuomo proposes sweeping education changes 
I'm ambivalent about Governor Cuomo, but he does seem like a pretty savvy political operator:
While the bill is supported by some 20 unions, who say that it would help the children of their members, the New York State teachers’ union staunchly opposes it, calling it a backdoor voucher program that directs tax dollars to private schools.

Cuomo’s Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers’ Unions
* Almost sufficient income
** Reality turned out to be exactly the opposite: public school education at private school prices.


Anonymous said...

School choice did not work out well for Sweden. Their test scores, especially in math, have been in free fall.

"Sweden's education minister, Jan Björklund, said the Pisa results were "the final nail in the coffin for the old school reform," and speculated that the central government could take over running schools from Sweden's municipalities."

SteveH said...

How can choice ever be overall worse that what we have now? Do you expect a win-win-win situation with choice? Does choice have higher expectations than our current schools? What, exactly, defines choice?

I don't want choice. I didn't want the choice to be able to drive my son 45 minutes to a school in another town. I wanted him to be part of our community. Local public schools have the home court advantage, but still, many parents are desperate to get their kids into charter schools.

Choice isn't going to immediately solve the fuzzy ideas being taught in ed schools. When you go to another school of your choice, it's likely to be an Everyday Math school, but that doesn't mean that choice won't work. In fact it will work right now for many kids. In other cases, there won't be any real choice or it might take a long time.

Choice may not work if it's not real choice. Our state educational hierarchy has to approve all charters and they won't approve charters that attract better students by setting higher expectations. There is real choice and there is pseudo-choice.

This is not about whether charter schools are somehow overall better than regular public schools. You have to look at each child individually. Did they make the right choice? And who gets to make that decision? As it is now, many educators are fighting tooth and nail against desperate urban parents who are trying to get their kids into charter schools. They can tell if school 'B' is better for their child than school 'A'.

Many students who stay in the regular schools get help at home or with tutors. There are no higher expectation charter school choices in our area, so all of the best students stay in the public schools. Then people point to choice as a failure. No. The problem is that there are not the right kinds of choices. This is not whether no-choice is somehow ever better than choice, but whether any politically created system of choice can work.

If real choice came to our area, my view is that it wouldn't affect our high school much, but our lower grades would lose a lot of students.

SteveH said...

"He (Cuomo) proposed increasing the number of charter schools allowed statewide to 560 from 460, removing special restrictions placed on New York City."

Only one hundred more in all of New York? Real choice would not set any limits. Who gets to approve which charters are accepted? What restrictions are placed on the charters?

Choice as it is now is not full choice, and opponents of choice want to stop it before it can get there - no matter what individual parents want.

Froggiemama said...

Just a comment on your Holland link, which I hadn't read before. I went to gymnasium in Germany as a kid. In Germany, at least, gymnasium is NOT Latin/Greek based. Instead, it is the college track. Parents don't "choose" to send their kids to gymnasium. Kids are tested (in Germany at 4th grade) and tracked into gymnasium. And in Germany at least, you don't go to college unless you went to gymnasium first.

Froggiemama said...

OK, so I looked it up on Dr Wikipedia. In Holland, kids are tested and tracked at age 12. The college track is the VWO, and you can choose between athenaium and gymnasium. You are right, gymnasium adds Latin and Greek - but most families would not have access to this since the kid would first have had to have tested into the VWO track. Also, for some context, most Dutch kids have learned 2 modern languages (typically English and German, but in Curacao it is English and Spanish) before hitting this level. It sounds like HOlland, like Germany and the France of my teen years, is a heavilly tracked system

Froggiemama said...

Steve, I don't think you understand the NY context. We have strong local control here, and microdistricts. Outside of the big cities, who would host these charter schools? Most districts are too small. There is no provision for state run schools here. So one can imagine charter schools in Buffalo, Yonkers, and Rochester. But Scarsdale?

We actually have limited choice here, in that some districts will accept out of district students if they have space. I know MA allows for this too. In reality, though, the good districts don't participate. Also, schools are allowed to reject students they don't want. I don't know who participates here, but I saw a map for MA, and basically, none of the "good" districts surrounding Boston participate.

I think the real problem here is that outside of the cities, we just don't have the organizational structure to support widespread choice.

Froggiemama said...

One last comment, about parochial schools. Your son went to a Jesuit high school, and I am betting I know which one, which is a really different animal from your standard parochial school. I teach at a university at which 50% of our students come from parochial schools. Generally, they are NOT coming from Jesuit prep schools though. My ex-parochial school students are very bit as unprepared as the public school grads. All I can conclude is that while there are some fine Catholic prep schools, largely Jesuit run, the vast majority of parochial schools in the NYC metro area are mediocre and are not focused on college preparation. So our tax dollars can get funneled to the Catholic Church if we wish, but it isn't going to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Our kids were raised in the MD suburbs of DC and the best public high schools in our immediate area kept the top students because of the very strong honors/AP offerings and the very bright kids who took that path. Through my kids' sports, I knew many kids from the whole area, many of whom attended private or parochial schools,but almost all were kids who lived in area of weaker high schools or who were not academically competitive for either the magnet programs or the honors/AP path at top schools. (where AP meant elite-college level, with most kids getting 4-5s) The privates tended to be better than the non-honors/AP path at the best high schools and were better than the honors/AP offerings at weaker high schools (where there were not enough kids to fill real honors/AP classes, so the level of the classes suffered). I can remember one very shy kid whose parents sent to a private because it was much smaller than their 1500-student public).

SteveH said...

"I think the real problem here is that outside of the cities, we just don't have the organizational structure to support widespread choice."

So you don't have real choice right now, like most of our area. What's your point - don't allow choice?

Froggiemama said...

You were complaining that we don't have a lot of charter schools in NY, and I was explaining why. I really don't think itis an evil conspiracy. We just are not well set up for charters, at least in suburban NY.

SteveH said...

"...and I was explaining why."

You were opining.

I was NOT talking about just suburban NY and I said nothing about an evil conspiracy. It's obvious and open. The New York State teachers’ union (as all state teachers' unions) opposes more charter schools because they take away their money and power. If they thought that increasing the limit would have no effect, they wouldn't be howling so much. All unions fight to keep that limit below any level of demand.

froggiemama said...

"The New York State teachers’ union (as all state teachers' unions) opposes more charter schools because they take away their money and power."

Hmmm, that sounds to me like you are accusing the teachers union of a conspiracy.

SteveH said...

"that sounds to me like you are accusing the teachers union of a conspiracy. "

No. What they are doing is quite open and obvious. Unions might claim that what's best for them is what's best for kids, but that isn't so. They directly oppose new charter schools that urban parents desperately try to get their kids into. This is no longer a voucher for rich people issue. Unions are showing their true colors.

Froggiemama said...

You are really talking about the situation in NYC. The state is far more than just the city. We have 700 school districts in NY, all with strong local control. Here are some numbers: Of the state's 248 charter schools, 197 are in NYC. There are 33 more in Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany. "Throughout the state's nearly 700 other school districts, there are only 18, including one each in Yonkers and Mount Vernon.".
The article goes on to explain some of the problems, including what they call "fierce community opposition". And btw, I actually got hold of the 2010 proposal for the White Plains charter mentioned in the article, and read it carefully, and it was terrible. My 12 year old could have written a better proposal. It was for an "art infused high school" with lots of hand waving about infusing art and no detail whatsoever on curriculum or educational methods. It deserved to die.

We have 700 school districts, many of which are too small to ever be able to support an alternative school of any kind, not because of the teachers unions, but because this is what the taxpayers want. And many states in the Northeast are just like us.

lgm said...

No Froggiemama, this is not what the taxpayers want. The people who dont have tax exemptions want academics for their children. The ones that do are for offering the least possible. My school district went from IB to 'school to work' gen ed overnight. We offer academies within the school, alternative, and night high school...but the admin is philosophically opposed to IB, AP, and honors as well as offering academics beyond what is required for the Regents Advanced doesnt matter what that group of academically inclined students need. My 16 year old was told to grad early or spend his senior year at the Community College as the school is only offering the required english, ss, and pe....thats a 45 minute drive on a good weather day, and he is supposed to drive himself and pay for it all.

In the mid to lo Hudson area, Tuxedo is opening a STEM charter, and Newburgh is opening a Pathways to Technology Early College High School program. People want honors math and science for all qualified children. They dont want their kids tossed out of the community because staying would mean the school board would have to turn one section of chemistry into an honors class. Some school districts are so busy with their social agenda that they refuse tominclude the academic needs of all, their students.

SteveH said...

But you are ignoring urban schools. I wasn't. Why?

Our state does not have many charters in non-urban areas because of restricted rules about charters, not because of lack of demand or poor applications.

Here is a quote from the article you use:

"Several groups have sought and failed to open charter schools in the Lower Hudson Valley in recent years, most recently in Peekskill and Mount Vernon, thanks to furious community opposition or the state's denial of their applications.

This "furious" opposition is not because some applications may be poor, and much of it comes from unions and parents who support the unions.

"... not because of the teachers unions, but because this is what the taxpayers want."

This is not true. Unions are not neutral on the matter. And the point of charter schools is NOT to get majority support from everyone. They are not supposed to be for everyone, but many seem to be bound and determined to stop all charter schools.

If your area can't support charters because of lack of demand, then that's the way it is, but you don't seem to want to let individual parents decide. Why is that? The "furious" opposition is a clear example of not letting the market decide, not because of a lack of demand.

lgm said...

How many of you have school boards dominated by people whose candidacy was supported vigorously by members of the teacher's union, or are retired teachers or administrators?

SteveH said...

From your same article:

"Earlier proposals met similar fates. In 2010, a proposal for an arts-oriented charter in White Plains for students from across Westchester County met fierce opposition from educators, parents and union leaders."


"and union leaders."

In our area, the union recruits parents AND students to fight charter applications. They lead the battle and provide resources. They make no attempt to hide this. They recruit publically.

"It was like being fed into a meat grinder," said Seth Davis, a Rye lawyer and organizer. "There was no attempt to understand what we were doing."

This is from your article. This isn't a group of taxpayers who are just concerned that some other kids might be subjected to a poor school. In one nearby case, very poorly written student support letters for public schools helped tilt the decision in favor of the charter school.

Also, even though we have few viable charter schools in our area, they cause our public schools to do more. My son's public school principal told me that. They don't like to see the better students leave, even to go to private schools. It allowed my son to get more because they wanted to show that differentiated instruction meant something other than just offering help on the low side.

froggiemama said...

if the taxpayers don't want local control, then why is it so hard to get rid of it?? The single best thing that could happen here in NY would be to consolidate, oh, about half those 700 districts, but it is like a sacred cow. And the debate really is not driven by the teachers unions. It is the people in those towns. They are petrified they will lose control.

My town is such a good example of the craziness. I am in a town of 30,000, with THREE SEPARATE school districts. I can WALK to all of the schools in the three districts, they are so close together. One of the districts, whose school is about 2 miles from my house, is much better and more heavily funded than the other two, but can I send my kids there? No! And it isn't because of a teacher's union. It is because the taxpayers in that district want no part of the hoi polloi from my district, even though we all live in the same town!!!! Our blog owner Catherine lives in a similar place (I used to live there too). You can go out for a little job and hit 4 school districts, each with its own character and funding level. Kids do not move between these districts.

It is nice that Tuxedo is starting a STEM charter. They are 30 minutes from the truly desperate East Ramapo school district. Are they going to allow some of those poor kids in East Ramapo into their charter? I betcha not.

My main point is that it is really easy for outsiders to look at the school situation in NY and just see NYC. In NYC, there is truly a union vs charter battle happening. But in much of the rest of NY, we need to solve the microdistrict craziness first. And that holds for NJ and MA too. For those who want choice, how can we even implement choice if our choice radius is only 2 miles?

froggiemama said...

previous comment correction "little jog", not "liitle job". I should compose in a separate window first so I don't misspell things

SteveH said...

If you want to talk about specific issues in your area, then don't generalize to all non-urban areas or to choice in general, especially when the discussion included urban areas.

"we need to solve the microdistrict craziness first"

Then you would be for choice? Are all charter schools in New York approved by local school districts and limit attendance to only those in that district? Our state, not local districts, has approval process and anyone can apply to any charter school.

"For those who want choice, how can we even implement choice if our choice radius is only 2 miles?"

Change the state laws regarding choice. I don't follow you. You like choice, but you really don't like micro districts. Then again, you argue against choice in general.

lgm said...

Tuxedo will be open to out of district students. Newburgh will not.

And E. Ramapo illustrates the whole problem...the school boards see no obligation to provide appropriate instruction for all compelled students, just the politically chosen favs of the day.

By the way, a new Talent Act has been introduced in the US Senate. That may help some of the '3s' who are currently ignored in the classroom.

froggiemama said...

How will Tuxedo work? WIll they charge tuition to the home districts of their out of district students? What if the home district doesn't want to spring for it?

Steve, the law in New York allows students to go to another district only if the receiving district approves that individual student, and the student pays tuition to the receiving district. The problem is that many "good" districts simply don't participate, and they don't have to. But the tuition is also a problem since there are wide disparities in the amounts spent per pupil in different districts. There is no state law that lets students go to a out of district charter with a set amount of money following that student.

froggiemama said...

The problem in East Ramapo is due to the power of the local taxpayers, who overwhelmingly elect a school board that only looks out for private schools. Even though New York does not generally support private school choice, that school board has figured out how to get around it. But they wouldn't have the power except that the taxpayers overwhelmingly support what they are doing, which is siphoning money out of the public schools.

froggiemama said...

Steve, yes, I believe our charter schools have to be approved at the local district level and hosted by that district.

SteveH said...

"I believe our charter schools have to be approved at the local district level and hosted by that district."

Then change the state law. You can argue against whatever this is, but it's not choice and not how it works in many other places. Then, as in our state, you will see exactly what the unions think. It sounds like they don't have to do anything right now.

If you can't change the state law, then don't blame choice and don't argue against it in other places where it's more like real choice.

lgm said...

If the sending district does not want to pay, they are not obligated unless it is determined in court that they cannot provide an appropriate education for thestudent. The districts I looked into charged slightly more than the avg per pupil price for ood tuition. Parents are willing to pay that much...the problem is many was that they were at capacity until this year, when population declines started happening as the economy picked up and people moved to get the education they needed for their children. Now some districts are talking about admitting fee paying international students, as they have empty seats.

Glen said...

San Francisco's school choice program was intended to serve the social engineering agenda of its politicians, but the only people it ended up helping were parents and students.

From this very long article on school choice in SF:

Each January, parents across San Francisco rank their preferences for public schools. By June, most get their children into their first choices, and almost three-quarters get one of their choices. A majority of families may be satisfied with the outcome, but the student assignment system is failing to meet its No. 1 goal, which the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to achieve since the 1960s: classroom diversity.

Our journalists, and the politicians with whom they share a common agenda, seem to take for granted that the school district has a different agenda from the families it nominally represents.

District Policy Director Orla O'Keeffe complains that when families don't want what politicians want for them, choice privileges families over politicians:

“If you’ve got racially isolated choice patterns, then your capacity to create diversity using a choice mechanism is constrained,” O’Keeffe said. “There’s none of that in our system. It’s all about what families want.”

Much more about how San Francisco's political class sees school choice in the article...

Anonymous said...

The way "school choice" in San Francisco works seems quite a lot like the way it works in Boston. Kids are bused willy-nilly all over town, kids don't go to school with the kids living next door to them, and the schools are more segregated today than they were in the sixties.

The other side effect: if you have a complaint about the school - say, your five year old keeps coming home bloodied up and missing clothing - they won't do anything because you always have the Choice to leave.

I choose none of the above.