Following her post asking for evidence that school choice programs work, Jenny D. received some excellent comments, both pro and con. No real evidence, of course, but debate nevertheless.

Standing at a distance, though, I’m going to pick on one commentator, the ever courageous anonymous, who parrots a common argument for school “choice” (which is usually a euphemism for “vouchers”).

What is an issue is that public schools by and large don’t teach the kids what they need to know. And that’s why we need choice – because parents care more about their children than anyone else.

Casting all public schools in the US as failures is largely behind the one-size-fits-all, train wreck of a law that is No Child Left Behind. Simplistic statements do not make good educational policy and is incorrect. In this case it also obscures the larger question that needs to be at the heart of school reform: what is it that “all kids need to know”?

For the most part, American school curriculums, and the standardized tests that drive them, reinforce the concept that there is one body of knowledge and that the teacher is the all-knowing information dispenser. That system may have worked fifty years ago when we were still a industrialized society, when most people’s job was to make stuff. Like it or not, those days are passed and are not coming back.

But almost all current proposals for reform are centered around tinkering with that mid-20th century traditional school structure rather than looking at the big picture of American society in the modern world. Creating an education system that works for the future will require a massive overhaul, starting with a hard, possibly painful, look at the skills students need to have when they finish. Not just what they “need to know”.

As to the part about parents caring about their kids more than anyone else, I certainly hope so. However, that doesn’t mean they understand how to act on that concern and choose a good educational setting for their child.

As I noted a few rants back, any choice system must also educate parents about the schools they have to select from. That will require all schools – public, private, and charter – to be more open about their programs and philosophies than you now find in most places.

school choice, curriculum