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Can Competition Really Improve Schools?

That’s the big question ask by an article on the Christian Science Monitor site. The writer doesn’t answer the question but does do a good job of presenting the arguments on both sides. Which is as it should be. Choice in education, like many other politically charged subjects, is not as simple as advocates and opponents would like everyone to think and certainly not something that can be resolved in one short article.

Some school choice advocates operate from the premise that choice in and of itself will miraculously transform American education. However, a choice system will only work if parents fully understand their options and are able to make informed judgements for their children. That’s not as simple as just presenting a catalog of neighborhood, charter and private schools and asking everyone to check a box. Finding the best match between a student and a school should be the ultimate goal of the educational system in general.

In many ways that is just what is happening in the schools that surprise that are the focus Jay Mathews’ Class Struggle column this week. There is no doubt that all of these schools do an outstanding job of educating the children attending their classes. However, schools like Westview really are "so beyond the ordinary it could hardly be believed". As with all of the schools mentioned by Mathews, the program at Westview works for the relatively small number of students who have been self-selected into the school.

But these programs are not appropriate for every student – and that’s the bottom line for school choice. It will only work if we are able to match up the learning styles of students with the instructional approach that will best work for them. Making that happen will take a whole lot more work than just telling students they have a choice. It requires a great deal of effort on the part of the educational system to create the appropriate schools as well as by the parents who must become intelligent shoppers on behalf of their kids.

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1 Comment

  1. Good points. I’d add two more:

    First, just going to school choice doesn’t create a better environment for teaching quality. That requires a recognition of the importance of teaching and a systematic response that promotes opportunities for teachers to collaboratively improve teaching, provides access and choices for quality training experiences, etc.

    Second, if college choice is an example, it is amazing how little many families do in trying to make a good match between student and school.

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