Does choice create quality?

Accountability doesn’t mean “government-imposed standards and testing” argues an education manifesto signed by leaders of the Cato Institute, the Friedman Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Center for Education Reform and others. “True accountability” comes from “parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality.”

Despite his strong bias toward school choice and parental prerogative, Robert Pondiscio is “not quite ready to act upon the argument that choice, not standards, is the best guarantee of excellence, he writes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

I taught in the lowest-performing school in New York City’s lowest-performing district. There was choice available to the families we served. The original South Bronx KIPP Academy was a few blocks away. There were other charter schools and good Catholic schools, too. In my school, meanwhile, our principal knew all the families by name, spoke fluent Spanish, and parents appreciated that we were respectful and nice to the kids. Our motto was written in big, bold letters on the playground wall: “Job Number One: Keep Everyone Safe!” Job Number Two, directly under it, read “Get a Good Education.”

Those were the de facto standards that arose at my school. One hundred percent of our students were safe. Sixteen percent could read on grade level.

Choice and standards need each other, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. Not all parents want no-excuses, data-driven instruction.” In Washington, D.C., parents can choose Montessori charters, Catholic charters, Hebrew immersion, Reggio Emilia, No Excuses, and on. “All are held accountable to the same standards, but real innovation is not only possible — it is encouraged and thriving. In fact, that innovation is possible not in spite of the standards but because of them.”

“Having standards to which all publicly funded schools are held accountable doesn’t strike me as an undue burden,” writes Pondiscio.

On This Week in Education, Paul Bruno takes on the faulty logic of the “other people’s children” argument. Reform critics charge reformers push for ideas — such as the “no excuses” model — that they wouldn’t want for their own kids.

. . . it seems plausible that different kids have different educational needs and that the children of prominent reformers are likely to be systematically different than other children, particularly the least-privileged children who tend to be the focus of reform efforts.

That makes sense to me — if low-income parents have a choice of different school models, as in Washington D.C. 

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  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Does choice include me being able to decide what happens with my tax dollars currently spent on education?
    Do I get to keep the education part of my tax dollars?

  2. It’s not an either/or situation.

    Standards, top-down, mandated standards, will certainly squelch the variety that choice rewards but school choice will inevitably result in the development of standards.

    Parents will reflexively want some way to compare schools since the “see how it feels approach” only works when there aren’t too many choices.

    If it’s the district school you’re escaping from or the only other option standards are irrelevant.

    Once the possibilities expand a trifle the demand will be to know whether a school’s got the basics covered, however parents choose to define those basics. Some schools will do a better job then others and a standard will allow parents to quickly winnow out the losers.

    Bad schools will object to standards but the demand isn’t negotiable – if you won’t participate you won’t have a score and most parents won’t look farther then that. Good schools, as measured by the standard, will enthusiastically trumpet their scores.

  3. Two supposedly inadequate standards: <>

    Looks like teacher education programs aren’t even teaching the basics of how to teach children to read, the teachers aren’t taking the time to figure it out for themselves, and/or the school environment and job descriptions don’t include actually teaching skills as a priority. Being able to read is something everyone understands is part of a “good education.” We need to be micromanaged to know what that means?