The Curious Urbanite Learns about School Choice

There’s a new pro-choice movement in town. Instead of clinics and doctors, this time it’s about schools and teachers. Particularly in areas with above average high school drop our rates, like inner-city San Antonio.  The curious urbanite will be curious about what this means for any children she needs to be educating in the future…

School choice is the term used to refer to a movement that includes everything from vouchers to homeschooling, as well as public charter schools. It is based on the assertion that parents who find themselves in failing schools should be given options to look elsewhere for their children’s education.

On March 26, Texas Senate Bill 2 is scheduled for public hearing. This bill will, among other things increases support for charter schools, including those not incorporated by the school districts in which they reside, like IDEA and KIPP. It will also establish a Charter Schools Authorizing Authority.

In advance of that hearing, Texans Deserve Great Schools held a press conference on March 22 at IDEA Carver, formerly The Carver Academy, on Hackberry Street.

Speaking at the press conference was Sen. Dan Patrick, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, author of the TX SB 2, and advocate of school choice.

Perhaps the strongest argument for school choice, one made by Patrick, is that it has always existed for those wealthy enough for private school and mobile enough to shift school districts. However, for those bound by income and geography to struggling school districts, there is little that they can do, however much they might want more opportunity for their child.

Texas Senator Dan Patrick at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Texas Senator Dan Patrick at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

“Just because you are poor, in the valley, or in the inner city doesn’t mean you don’t care about your child…” Patrick said. He also pointed out that it was misguided to think that one educational approach would work for 5 million students saying, “Anyone who has more than one child knows that in the same family with the same upbringing, children learn differently.”

A key element of school choice, the one addressed by TX SB 2 is the availablility of charter schools.

“There are some that resist innovation, transparency, and rigor,” he said. Which is what Texans Deserves Great Schools proposes to bring to table.

He argued that with 5 million students in public schools, the idea that charter schools represent a serious threat to public school enrollment (and funding) is simply unrealistic. Right now, with approximately 150,000 students enrolled, charter schools account for the smallest portion of the pupil share in the state.  With and 80,000/year growth rate, it is likely that 95% of all Texas students will continue to be enrolled in public schools.

Victoria Branton Rico at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Victoria Branton Rico at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

Patrick, along with Victoria Branton Rico, Chairwoman of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, made the case that adding options for families and students would not hurt existing public schools. On the contrary, they cited research showing how competition strengthens public school performance, which only bodes well for public school funding.

“Being pro-charter is not being anti-public schools,” Patrick said.

Branton Rico reiterated some of the challenges facing public schools, and celebrated advances in research that have allowed policy to move forward addressing the issues.

“A few years ago this was a policy dead end,” she said, going on to reference studies by MIT, Harvard, and others about the effectiveness of the high performing charter schools. The most compelling statistic being that students in charter schools receive an average of four more years of education than students in traditional public schools – which basically means that their drop-out rate is drastically lower. Dropping out of high school has a high statistical correlation to going to prison, Branton Rico pointed out.

Branton Rico highlighted Texans Deserve Great School’s four core principles to transform Texas schools (more in-depth explanations of the policies can be found here):

1) Implement proven education technologies and teaching innovation – these include blended learning, online classes, vocational training classes, allowing students to test for credit in classes without “seat time,” and innovation waivers for schools looking to pilot new program.

2) Make high-performing school options available to every Texas family – most notably by removing the cap on charter schools, allowing families to choose any public school they wish (while giving priority to the school’s local residents when a school reaches capacity), equitable funding and facility access for charter and traditional public schools, and increasing principals’ control over vital areas that affect campus effectiveness and efficiency.

3) Invest in the best teachers and teaching policies to improve student learning – which would increase rigor and flexibility on everything from teacher training, to pay-scales, to giving teachers full use of the grading scale (even zero) to evaluate student work.

4) Integrate an emergency, expedited fix for any failing Texas public school – the main point of which is to allow for more accessible ratings (such as an A-F scale) and swifter intervention for failing schools.

The final speaker at the press conference was Rolando Posada, executive director of San Antonio IDEA public schools.

Rolando Posada at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Rolando Posada at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

He heralded a 100% increase in IDEA schools in Texas over the next five years, from 28 to 56, which proposes to increase college graduates in Central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley by 50%.

“Solving the education problem means that we are creating people who can solve the other problems our country faces,” Posada said.

IDEA embraces blended learning and the other innovative techniques promoted by Texans Deserve Great Schools. He referred to his students as young readers and mathematicians, emphasizing their potential to achieve.

“We focus on character, and acheivement remarkable and naturally follows,” Posada said.

He went on to praise the efforts of Sen. Patrick for moving past lip service and into action saying, “The time has come to replace cliche’s with actual transformation.”

For those seeking transformation on both sides of the school choice movement, TX SB 2 will be important to watch.

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One thought on “The Curious Urbanite Learns about School Choice

  1. […] “The curious urbanite learns about school choice”, Bekah McNeel, Free Bekah, March 26, 2013. […]

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