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Charter schools bring choice

Posted: August 13, 2012 9:16 a.m.
Updated: August 13, 2012 9:25 a.m.

Pre-union public schools of the 1950s graduated more students than they do today. The number of drop-outs and school exits via GED, as well as the declining number of high school graduates who go onto college, are all evidence of illness in our public school system.

Several ethos introduced to education in the middle of the 20th century appear to be at fault. Fear of standardized testing and the zealous protection of the brass ring of public employment — tenure — have encouraged a race to the bottom in education.

In the late 1990s, school choice began to catch on as a means to infuse competition into school districts that — protected from meaningful reform by workplace rules backed by powerful union lobbyists — had helped America fall from the country graduating the most students from high school to ninth place in that category.

Change began when parents and lawmakers began asking the question; What will reinvigorate teachers, motivate students and improve our education system? The increased competition created by school choice programs is the methodology currently preferred by reformers.

But entrenched special interests and school administrators who believe that change is a threat to them are resisting the kind of competition and innovation that school choice brings.

As a result, the history of school choice is one marked with the same political infighting we have seen in many banner national issues. Some folks see competition by for-profit institutions as the corporatizing of education, and in their minds adding a business mentality to teaching is going to undermine the system by taking money from public schools and transferring it to for-profit education corporations who have only their share-holders’ interests at heart.

Proponents of school choice recognize a different problem. They see a vastly over-complicated and seniority-based hiring regime combined with restrictive work rules as having undermined the effectiveness of America’s teachers.

Opponents of school choice believe that what we have is good enough and choice will just lead to confusion.  
Proponents of school choice believe that competition and free-market ideas, when combined with other proven educational techniques, have the ability to lift our entire education system up.

Can hundreds of struggling school districts around the country — those that have added charter schools and vouchers for private schools and have seen their education systems improve as a result — be wrong? Opponents of school choice say the mass exodus from traditional public schools is actually evidence that they are.

A recent article in The New York Times (“Enrollment Off In Big Districts, Forcing Layoffs” July 24, 2012) looked at the issue from the point of view that increased charter school enrollment is leading to public school lay-offs.
But it also revealed that many parents are opting for charter schooling because public schools seem unable to deal with children who require special attention — not remedial education — just more attention from the teacher.

The Times chose to see the dark side of this trend. Rather than lauding the proving of innovative teaching techniques and workforce flexibility, the Times saw charter schools as causing public schools to look bad.

But charter schools are guilty only of offering an alternative to the system that most people identify as failing. When given the choice, parents are scrutinizing the public education system and finding room for improvement.
Charter schools are answering that need by offering innovative teaching techniques and one-on-one attention to students that the traditional public school system has been resistant to and/or slow to implement.

In a world free of herculean bureaucracy and bias against free-market principles, the public school system would be making these necessary changes on its own. But “group think” has set in among those who run our schools. They have decided that highly paid administrators are more important than hiring more teachers or avoiding teacher lay-offs.

And they’ve decided that complicated and restrictive work rules are more important than bending over backward to insure students are getting the attention and motivation necessary to insure that they understand the material and are progressing to the next grade on merit rather than a need to maintain a quota.

We need to stop denying there is a problem in public education and embrace the reforms that nearly any enterprise benefits from, increased competition and innovation that only more school choice can bring us.

Jeff Lui is a resident of Santa Clarita, a product of its schools, and a local business person.


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