School Choice

27 Feb


I’ve been reading some of the pieces by John Stossel.  I didn’t see his special, but have read a number of reviews of it by teachers.  His columns seem to be pretty consistent with how others have summarized his T.V. special.


I think it was stupid of him to call his special “Stupid in America.”  I think it was also stupid of him to get all political and go on a tear against teacher unions.  I’d catch some flack for my take on this if I were more widely read.


I think we need to find something we can all agree on.  Can we all agree that some schools are better than others?  Can we all agree that some schools are not as good as others?  I’m not assigning blame, here.  I routinely read several blogs by teachers teaching in the Bronx, and I’m convinced that these are hard working people who are dedicated toward the education of the students they teach.  Are schools in the Bronx worse than others?  I don’t know, but I’d be curious as to how many of the teachers would send their own kids there.  I’m just saying.


Magnolia County is a fast growing suburban area not far from Atlanta.  There are 2 high schools and one opening up next year.  There are maybe a half dozen middle schools and a score of elementary schools.  I don’t know, I haven’t bothered to count.  But school choice is definitely a topic of discussion in the Dalton household.  As a public school teacher, I do have a choice as to where my kids go to school.  With the youngest getting ready to go into pre-K, and my oldest already attending an out-of-zone school, we have choices to make.  Do we want both to go to the same out-of-zone school, or do we switch the oldest so he’s attending in-zone with his younger brother?  It’s a choice most parents do not have.  It’s such a vexing thing; sometimes I wish I didn’t have it!


I have teacher friends at almost every school in the county.  I know some schools are better than others.  I interact with PT, OT and APE teachers who travel from school-to-school and they tell me how some are better than others.  But we also agree that the culture and character of a school can and does change over time.  Teachers are leaving, transferring and staying every year.  Neighborhoods transition, decline and are revitalized.  Who’s to say the school we enroll the boys in next year will be the same in 2 years?


I really am in favor of school choice.  I think all parents should have the same choice us teachers have, and the money should follow the student.  This includes private schools and homeschoolers.  This where things get enormously unpopular, but as a consumer of education, I like as many choices as possible.  My sister is home schooling her 4 children, and I’m amazed at her stamina and determination in doing this.  Home schooling is not taking the easy way out by any means.


I also think public schools need to diversify.  Ironically, I think it is the college track curriculum that is killing education in America.  Almost every single thing public schools do from kindergarten on up is geared towards the singular outcome of attending a 4 year university.  This stresses students, parents, teachers and administrators.  Can we all agree that every student is not going to go to a 4 year college?  Can we also agree that not every student who goes will graduate?  Can we also agree that students and their parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they decide they don’t want to go to college?  Technical schools, junior colleges and the military provide worthwhile career training experiences.  High schools could also offer some of these same types of experiences, especially in trades and journeyman-type experiences.  Think about it next time you need to pay a plumber.


If middle and high schools were more geared towards a more diverse type of learner with different skill sets, it might make things easier on every one.  In my EBD teaching days, I had several students interested in art, music, carpentry and mechanics.  But we forced them to sit through hours of world geography, British literature and algebra when they’d rather be drawing, fixing things, building things, growing things or otherwise being productive.  But they were forced to sit quietly for hours and hours and endure subjects with no relevance to their lives or their personal goals.  Is it any wonder they had behavior problems?


As a regular ed. teacher, consider what life might be like if you weren’t compelled to try to engage and entertain these students who have no interest in your subject?  Would that make a difference in how you taught, having to spend less time on behavior problems caused by apathy and boredom? 


The fear that teachers would be laid off en mass or suffer economically if there were more choices is irrational.  As it is, schools are struggling to deal with overcrowding and teacher shortages.  I’d think that lessening the load would give everyone a break from adverse conditions.  If private schools can do a better job with uncertified staff, let them have at it.


I’m not afraid of competition from home schools, private schools, foreign schools or wherever.  No school is going to be able to meet the needs of every student.  Some teachers may be better suited to a different type of school.  I wouldn’t mind teaching in a special ed. school, with a cadre of specialists all working towards a similar outcome with similar students committed to a common goal. And, as a teacher, I’d rather work with colleagues that were dedicated and competent than those just marking time until retirement.


It so happens, that in Magnolia County, the elementary school with the best trained teachers as far as special education and inclusion go, is the city school where some of the poorest students go.  We live outside of that zone, but have been able to keep our oldest there as it was the only school with a special program for autism when he was in preschool.  Having a well-trained cadre of dedicated teachers makes a lot of difference.



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