Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Schools Are Not Breakfast Cereals

It’s almost time for my March Twitter roundup, but before that day arrives, I wanted to highlight a series of tweets I saw today.

Education is an issue I’ve been following for several decades, but mostly in the past 10 or 15 years. I hate to admit it, but I was naive enough back in 2002 to think No Child Left Behind might be a good idea. I don't remember exactly when that changed, but it was a few years later, and my dislike has only strengthened as I've come to know the work of Diane Ravitch and others challenging education "deform" and seen its effect on students and schools.

In all of the calamitous awfulness that fills our political life these days, education gets ignored or at least reduced to a set of sound bites. This was true under Obama just as much as it was under Bush. Do you remember any questions about education during the 2016 presidential debates? I was almost glad, because I knew that the answers would be bad on both sides.

These thoughts from Will Stancil‏ break through some of that, and I wanted to put them somewhere I could find them in the future. Thank you for writing them, Will. Stancil is with the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. His Twitter bio says, “I’m a lawyer. I like the Fair Housing Act and school integration.”

Just one man's opinion. But keep it in mind when reformers act like all parents want to shop for education like it's breakfast cereal.

And that's what choice is really about: the path of least resistance past historical inequality in education, particularly segregation.

But it does a decent job of placating engaged parents, who might otherwise pressure the city and state to provide a more uniform education.

Does it provide quality education for all? Absolutely not. Does it provide ACCESS to quality education for all? Not really. Your kid is funneled to one school, but if you're savvy enough, you can go somewhere else. Wealthier areas get better options more easily.

The real appeal of choice to many is as a fail safe, a wink to highly engaged subset of parents: YOU can't get caught in an unfair system. Plenty of parents make TERRIBLE choices about their kids' education. I can name dozens of bad charter schools bursting at the seams.

The theory, of course, is that choice creates pressure for schools to get better. But the evidence is slim-to-nonexistent that it does.

And then there are places with tons of choices — and they're all bad. Desolate public schools, predatory charter schools.

But you don't see parents in rich towns with one good school moaning about the lack of options. They're happy with their one option.

People care about school QUALITY. Some parents like the idea of choice because they think it lets them get their kid out of a bad school.

School choice doesn't matter. Barely anyone cares about school choice.
Yes to all of that. "Choice" is treated as an essential good, when in reality, it has no value in getting a quality school system. As Stancil says in a later tweet, "In health care, liberals laugh at this argument, while in education, they treat it as credible." 

Later on he tweeted this as a kicker:
The whole movement is just Eva Moskowitz and Michelle Rhee sitting on 20 different foundation boards with fake mustaches on.
This is my contribution to the cause:

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