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What passes for reform in Wichita public schools

Two middle schools in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, have performed so poorly for the past six years that they must be restructured, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. (“2 Wichita middle schools must start over,” Wichita Eagle, February 29, 2008) Four other Wichita middle schools are within one year of suffering this sanction, and another is two years away. So before long, seven of the 18 middle schools in the Wichita school district could be in the most severe category of remediation as defined by NCLB.

NCLB sanctions are progressive, meaning that these troubled schools have been receiving special attention and remedial measures for several years already. These measures have, evidently, failed to produce positive results.

What does the restructuring of these schools mean? Everyone, including the principals, must reapply for their jobs. That sounds severe, but in practice, it may not mean much at all. The superintendent of the Wichita schools says “… he expects leadership teams at both schools to remain.” The teachers, being members of a union, are guaranteed a job somewhere in the Wichita public schools.

Are these tough sanctions? When people fail this spectacularly in private enterprise, they usually are fired. That’s not happening here. Still, the sanctions are, somehow, painful. Wichita board of education member Barbara Fuller, herself the former president of the teachers union, “is most concerned about the restructuring plan’s emotional impact. ‘It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt deep,’ Fuller said.” I wonder how hurt the parents of children who attend these failing schools feel.

The Wichita school district, I have been told, wants to be held accountable for results. This “restructuring” of these middle schools, while perhaps an abrupt change compared to what school reform measures usually call for, will probably not produce the desired results. The system will still be the same. The same bureaucracy — from the superintendent to the school principals — is in place. There is still the same lack of meaningful competition, the same insulation from market accountability, and the same lack of entrepreneurial discovery process.

Market accountability is what the Wichita public schools need most. It is one thing for the school superintendent and the board of education to say they want to be held accountable. They appear noble and courageous for saying so. But if they truly want to held accountable they would allow competition through school choice funded by vouchers or tax credits.

In Kansas, most parents don’t have a credible threat of sending their children to a non-public school. School choice implemented through vouchers or tax credits would give parents the ability to send their children to almost any school they want. This is accountability. Losing your customers is a sanction that really hurts.

It’s easy to say you want to be held accountable when the penalty for failure is that described above. It is an entirely different matter to actually be held accountable by parents who have the credible threat of taking their children somewhere else — the same market accountability that private enterprise is subject to. This is the accountability that the Wichita school district will not submit to.

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One Comment

  1. Arden D. Peters March 11, 2008

    There are multiple problems in our school system. Over the years, the public school has been legislated and coerced into being a juvenile detention center (complete with “school resorce officers”), mental health treatment facilities, substitute families, food kitchens for kids whose parents do not feed them properly, a babysitting service, and who knows what else. Add to this top heavy administration, removal of most of the power the school had to enforce appropriate behavior of students in school, and we end up with what we currently see. Our schools were set up to be institutions of education. They can hardly be that while serving all the other roles foisted upon them.
    Another very large part of the problem are so many parents who just dump their obnoxious kids into the school system, do not really care about them, but will attack the school personnel should any one of them tell the parents their child is misbehaving. Just how is it that a child can be failing in school without a parent there Johnny-on-the-spot to see to it that their student begins achieving properly? My opinion is that children get “left behind” in part because the parents do not care about how their children do in school.
    Every child being entitled to a 12 year education at the taxpayer’s expense worked fine up until the mid 1960’s or so. It is utter nonsense that we are suppose to let every child go to school regardless of their behavior. Another change that is needed is setting standards to which a student’s behavior must conform in order to have the priviledge of a taxpayer supported education. If their behavior does not met that standard, then they should be not allowed back in school until their parents have done what ever is needed to see to it that their child does behave appropriately in school.

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