Thursday, December 15, 2011

School Choice

I live in one of the best public school districts in Michigan, rated 9 out of 10 stars by Yet every day I drive my youngest child to an school in a district where the median income is about half that of where I live and the district rating is three stars. The school that my youngest son attends faces some problems: so many students are from poor homes that they just provide every child with a free breakfast and lunch, they were so short on funds for books in kindergarten that they sent home photocopied pages some weeks, students with less than stable home lives come to school unprepared and with behavioral issues.

My middle son also attends a school of choice, but it is in our district. In fact it is in the building that was my oldest son's neighborhood elementary school.

Recently I've seen several articles that decry school choice because it destroys neighborhood schools and many charters are unregulated and no more successful than the public schools which they replace. So, why do I choose to send two of my three kids to schools of choice?

School choice allows my youngest to learn in an immersion Chinese program. Research shows that learning a foreign language before the age of twelve is more effective than learning it later in life and has a host of benefits in general cognitive development. My middle son learns in a Montessori program that suits his learning style far better than a traditional classroom does.

School choice allows my middle son a learning environment better suited to his needs. It also allows students from other districts to be in his classes, making his school more diverse while affording them an opportunity they might not otherwise have.

What about the downsides of school choice mentioned above? I actually believe that they don't exist. My kids schools are regulated just like all other public schools.  Neighborhood schools that are failing should be revamped instead of closed. The fact that they are closed is a consequence of a choice (a poor one in my opinion) that our society has made.  In fact, instead of detracting from an inner city school system Post Oak Elementary pulled my youngest son from a relatively affluent district. My son brought with him two motivated, educated parents who can donate money for books and time for tutoring. He will ace the standardized tests.

My youngest son is learning Chinese. Additionally, I am pleased to report he ahead of where his brothers were at the same age in math and (on average) in reading.  He enriches an impoverished district in many ways and it enriches him.  Deregulation and closure of failing schools are awful problems but please don't conflate them with school choice.  Taking away my choice won't solve those problems.