In Rudy Giuliani's speech at the Republican Convention tonight he stated that he believes that "parents should choose where their children go to school."
I don't know if anybody disagrees with that sentiment. But it got me thinking.
In discussions of welfare, medicaid, etc. the debate often centers whose fault it is that somebody needs help. One can argue that anybody who cannot support themselves is to blame for their condition. If that's the case, then it's not illogical to argue that the public shouldn't help support that person. We run into a problem, however, if they have children -- who certainly are not to blame for their condition. It's hard to argue that the public shouldn't provide those children help of some sort because the children don't get to choose into which family they're born. Exactly what type of help and how it should be provided (e.g. should assistance be filtered through parents? should children be removed from their families?) is the harder question to answer.
In education when we encounter people (students) with problems, we seem to blame their surroundings (schools). We see students that are underperforming and we put their teachers' and administrators' feet to the fire. Inequality of achievement is the fault of the schools. If schools did their jobs, then all kids would succeed.
So, back to the original quote. Let's say school choice takes off. Local schools disappear and every school is charter, private, open-enrollment, or whatever. So the school one attends is almost purely up to the parent. In this case, if the parent chooses a bad school and the kid doesn't get a good education . . . the parent is now to blame for making a bad choice. And, it means that students who succeed and students who fail are now separated by parents who make good choices and parents who make bad choices. Where it gets interesting for me is this: if a kid fails because their parent makes the wrong choice then what do we do about it?
If the world was as you postulate, and each student could pick his or her school, I don't think anything would change very much in terms of student outcomes.
The success of "elite" schools is due in large part to the type of students who attend the school, and the ability of the schools to expel students (or "ask them to leave") if they are not performing and behaving up to the school's strict standards.
If schools were forced to accept any and all students, and the students could not be expelled for the usual disruptive behavior that must be tolerated in traditional public schools, I don't think a lot of differences would exist in the student outcomes.
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