Monday, December 19, 2011

The Older the Students, the More School Choices are Needed

Today I've run across yet another disturbing report, this time on the PBS News Hour, on the costs our society incurs when students drop out of school. While the ultimate cause of declining prospects for dropouts is overpopulation in the Third World, our best response has to be to increase the number of schooling options available to secondary school students.

Opponents of school choice usually argue in favor of equity, and advocate making our existing local schools better, since opening up competing alternatives will likely leave some (most often those children unfortunately stuck with ignorant and careless parents, if the parents are still around at all) with the inferior, leftover options, since the better choices will likely already have been taken up by those families that are more educationally ambitious and better informed. I can imagine conceding that point, and recent evidence about the new school choice options in Indiana, which has the nation's most generous school voucher law, which I applaud, is showing that some of the private school beneficiaries there are taking advantage of their new opportunities to leave the neediest students behind in the traditional public schools, which become the repositories of all those kids who aren't getting chosen because they aren't the most attractive, from the private schools' points of view.

So how about this: leave our primary schools, through sixth grade, as local monopolies, as they do in Finland and Singapore, two often-praised school systems with very different approaches in other ways, thereby providing an equal opportunity to all children (and we have an enormous amount of work to do to raise the level of our many poorly performing schools so that all children will have an equal opportunity to get off to a good start in school); then allow chartered alternatives to become established from middle school onward, since it's obvious that not all students are succeeding in even our best model local primary schools and middle schools, and some can benefit from alternative provision, a point the defenders of traditional school districts will likely concede; and finally, in upper secondary, allow strictly college preparatory and strictly vocational schools to exist and receive taxpayer funding through vouchers, in addition to our traditional provision of comprehensive high schools? The establishment of a viable vocational sector is particularly important for us, since those countries that have a vocational sector that successfully competes for middle school graduates, meaning virtually all (mostly Germanic) European countries from Switzerland northward to Norway, have much lower youth unemployment rates than those in the English-speaking world whose educational systems traditionally treat work like four-letter word, to be avoided and delayed for as long as possible.

Let's stop begging students to stay in schools they hate, and instead provide them with some alternatives they may like a lot better.

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