Choice and Achievement – They’re not the same

I believe we must provide families with more public school options to remain relevant as a school district.  Students leave our school district every day in search of options – estimates of lost revenue to the district range from $4 to $5 million dollars.

Some families want dual-language schools.  Other families prefer the Montessori approach.  Still others may prefer a science or arts focus.  And, some families prefer traditional schools.  As online learning becomes more imbedded in our daily lives the demand for options (and differentiated learning) is only going to increase.

The reason we need to provide families options is so that we can keep public schools aligned with public sensibilities.  We live in a world in which people can create their own music “albums,” choose their own news, set their own television schedules, design their own postage stamps and choose from 19,000 varieties of Starbucks coffee.

Clearly schools are not the same as Starbucks, but a certain bottom line sensibility has take root in our society.  People expect to have options.  One size fits all is a relic of the past.

Public schools cannot survive if they fall too far out of sync with this public sensibility.

Now, many proponents of choice argue that choice will lead to higher student achievement.  In those places where education choice exists, even robust choice, there is not clear evidence that choice does anything to elevate student achievement.  Paul Hill, a nationally recognized proponent for choice admits this to be true.

So, as we talk about the critical importance of providing families with a variety of educational options we must be careful not to conflate choice and student achievement.  Student achievement is a critical issue, of course, but it is a different issue.  If we separate choice and achievement as the separate issues that they are perhaps we can make more accelerated progress on both.

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3 Responses to “Choice and Achievement – They’re not the same”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    The claim that “there is not clear evidence that choice does anything to elevate student achievement” is an interesting one.
    Please see http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/research/ShowResearchItem.do?id=10082 for data to the contrary.

  2. Brad Jolly Says:

    Well, I found the key issue – as usual, it’s a matter of language.
    Here’s what Hill says:
    “Some people think of choice only as vouchers. But in fact we took a broad definition that choice is any arrangement that lets parents pick among publicly funded schools.”
    This definition of school choice — any arrangement that lets parents pick among publicly funded schools — would include the current St. Vrain Valley School District policy of open enrollment.
    When proponents of real school choice talk about “choice,” they don’t mean a system whereby one can choose within St. Vrain, they mean real choice – where one can take one’s tax dollars to any school – public, private, parochial, charter – whatever.
    Suppose I said, John, I’m going to give you true choice in grocery shopping – you can shop at the King Soopers on N. Main, the one on S. Hover, or the one on N. Pace. If you want to go to Albertson’s or Safeway or whatever, you’ll have to pay twice – once for King’s and once for the store you prefer.
    Would you consider that to be choice in any real sense, just because you could pick from different King Soopers locations?
    Finally, I know that you are a big fan of public schools as an instrument of public unity and civility.
    Quoth Hill:
    “Finally, people are concerned about whether Nazi groups or divisive groups would get hold of schools and violate the principles of public education, of equality and tolerance. The problem with this expectation that choice would have these outcomes inevitably is the example of the Catholic schools which are schools of choice and have much better outcomes in these respects than most public schools do. Now that doesn’t mean that all schools of choice would have better outcomes with respect to civic unity, but it means that schools of choice can have good outcomes and it depends on how it’s done.”
    So, you’re right – goofy “choice” of different flavors of public schools does not necessarily relate to better outcomes. Real choice does.

  3. Brad Jolly Says:

    Here’s what Hill’s study really concluded about “choice” in the sense of vouchers with large amounts of money attached to them.
    “If substantial amounts of money follow the children to schools of choice, some good things can happen. It’s more likely that a supply of good schools will arise; it’s more likely that schools will be able to have flexible programs and deal with the needs of students. So it increases the likelihood that students who choose will learn. It also increases the likelihood that public schools will feel the loss of money, if substantial amounts of money transfer from existing public schools to schools of choice, they are more likely to make competitive responses that do good for their students.”
    Imagine that! Real choice (a voucher system with lots of money associated with the vouchers) benefits those who leave public schools and those who stay.

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