Does School Choice Kill Public Schools?
By Lori Graham
Recently, I asked Kris Kobach, candidate for Kansas Governor, if he supports school choice. His answer was “Yes,” and he gave an idea of how that would work. The liberal media pounced on his idea and twisted his answer in a way that perpetuates the fear that allowing parents to choose what is best for their child’s education will kill the public school system. Conservatives and liberals alike are fearful about this, but will it really kill the public schools?
To answer this, we need to first look at the problem. The real problem of meeting the needs of every student so that they achieve their potential. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has a new program called “Kansans Can – Kansas leads the world in the success of EVERY student.” This is a lofty goal, because it is a fact that the public schools will never meet every need for every student even with all the money in the world. In 2017, only 34% of the students had an “effective” or better understanding of Math, Science and English skills to enter the workforce. This is a frightening statistic and knowing that all of the additional funding each year over the last 10 years, which has reached record levels, still has not improved student success.
When we speak about “School Choice,” it means we focus the educational dollars on every student in the state of Kansas. I would think this is what the KSDE means with their Kansans Can program. If neighborhood schools are not meeting the needs of their children, parents should be able to select a different school that does meet their needs. Right now, that right only belongs to the wealthy or the very poor. Those in the middle are stuck with their government assigned-school, and only one-third of the students succeeding proves this is a flawed method of educating the next generation.
There are many different models of school choice around the country. Kris Kobach’s idea of grading each school building sounds logical on the surface and uses current Kansas state tests to do so. What he proposed is that schools with test score improvement from year to year will get pay increases for the staff, and those that fail will give vouchers to the students to choose another option. While the performance-based initiative is a good start, it only meets the needs of children of failing schools. What about the other students that may be in a good school, but their needs are not being met? In addition, this puts more focus on the testing that has proven to be a failure with No Child Left Behind and other legislation.
The best school choice option is for every parent/guardian to choose the best school to meet the needs of their child. This solution is great for public schools, great for teachers, great for students, and great for the Kansas economy. The best system for students is the best system for everyone. When our students get their individual needs met, whether he is high-achieving where challenging work is best or he is special-needs and focused therapies are best, our teachers will be able to actually teach, have more opportunities, and thus better pay; our schools will be less taxed with the overbearing challenge of meeting so many different problems our children face; and our economy will be strengthened with better prepared graduates and growth.
In states that have enacted school choice for all students, the public schools are flourishing! The free-market system encouraged new schools to pop up to meet the full spectrum of student needs, from autism to college-prep. Not all students will flock to the new schools, because public schools still have a lot to offer. The value of attending school with your neighbors, great sports, and great teachers will still appeal to the majority of parents.
What it does mean is that public schools will be required to focus on the students, not the administrator’s salary. The teachers and staff will need to be paid better so schools have the best teachers. The student’s parents will be the judge of their child’s success instead of the government tests. Teachers and administrators alike will be encouraged to work with the parent to ensure the success of the student. My experience as a public school employee and as a public school parent was that teachers only speak to parents for less than 10 minutes, twice per year, as required, at Parent-Teacher Conferences. This might work for a few students, but it certainly doesn’t work for the majority.
If the parents prefer their child not sit through the social engineering classes that teach values in conflict with their own, they will now have the opportunity to go elsewhere. If the school is great, but the environment is a problem with the student like drugs or bullying, the parent will be able to move the student to a new environment. If the child is struggling with new teaching methods like Common Core, the parent can move he/she to a more classical learning option.
Until every parent is allowed to choose what is best for their child, our student success will be sub-par, the funding will continue to go through the roof, and our children will be sacrificed in the process. School choice for all students levels the playing field for poor, rich and middle-income students alike. As soon as conservatives and liberals stop arguing long enough to learn about the proven benefits of school choice, our children, every child, will finally get the education they so deserve and our public school system will also thrive.