I just stopped reading an article about halfway through by a pro-choice (school choice, that is) advocate because he claimed that public schools for all is only a good idea for central government. It's just easier. That's the problem, however. There is nothing easy about educating EVERY child. The writer figured we'd all look back on the debate someday and be upset that anyone would have wanted a system that kept sending kids to neighborhood schools that were underperforming. The point is that these schools are NOT underperforming: all schools pretty much perform to what is expected. Voucher, choice, public, and private. The reality is that fifty years from now, everyone is going to wonder how we managed to create such a mess and will be trying to re-institute a free, public, liberal-arts education for all.
If a neighborhood school is bad, the neighborhood is bad. When I worked in Menomonee Falls, a blue-collar town outside of Milwaukee, the administrators would ask us teachers every year how we were planning on getting the kids to perform up to the standards of Brookfield, a white-collar suburb just to the south. So we had meetings, plans, and interventions. We got rid of homework because it counted against some kids. We tested a lot and did a lot of surveys. The answer, of course, was simple: either move the school to Brookfield or get the Brookfield students to attend MFHS.
School choice espouses the idea that location of the school matters more than location of the student. I don't mean physical location, exactly. Philosophy or religion or whatever they're selling. But it's the students in the school that matter the most. In Milwaukee, we have our one gem of a high school, and it's not in a great neighborhood. It's always been kind of a choice school. Rufus King has been the top high school in the city since the forced integration and magnet school experiment that preceded school choice by twenty years. Why is this school good? Well, you have to test in, as it's a school for academically-talented students. Sure, they let some others in, too, but the idea was to put all of Milwaukee's best students in one building. So, what happened to the other MPS high schools? I'm sure you can figure that out. They all tried specialize in order to attract other top students. I went to Marshall, which had journalism, media, language immersion, and cafeteria brawls as the specialties. We had basically the same teachers, just as intelligent as the ones at King.
The schools that want government money to run a voucher school are either going to end up like King or like Marshall. Marshall is closed today, as far as I can tell, because the neighborhood got a little worse, the languages left for another school, charter schools littered the area, and what was left was a student body that did not want to be there.
I want to see something work, don't get me wrong. Our country has tried the nearly impossible task of forced education on all its citizens. To what purpose? I say it's because we all have the right and opportunity to learn about and understand the big issues in the world. I tried so hard to get kids to buy into that, but most just wanted to pass a class and go make a living. If that's the end goal, then shut the schools down and open factories with decent wages. In fact, just turn the schools into factories. But don't say that just moving the kid to another building will fix everything. It never has and never will. Parents and kids need to buy into what is being taught as something that is important to them. Half of the kids in our country back in the 1940s did not see a high school diploma as being important, so why is it so important today if it takes pushing and prodding and mothering and moving schools to do it? If a free public education is not really the goal, then let's just say it and find out how to create an alternative.