McShane is Right: Choice Team Needs to Do More Than Cry about "Bad Schools"
This morning I’m going to be like that geeky kid at the front of the class, eagerly raising his hand and exclaiming, “Ooh, ooh, I know! Call on me!” The question the imaginary teacher is asking: “What one education policy article do you need to read this week?”
If I sit here and wait until you call on me, the post will never get written. So allow me to blurt out my recommendation: “We need to stop obsessing about ‘bad’ schools, by Michael McShane!” If the teacher hasn’t read it yet, do I get even more brownie points?
The article starts with an honest criticism:
Whenever DC policy folk talk about school vouchers, it is almost always accompanied by copious handwringing over “bad” schools.
Please note that McShane mentioned DC policy folk. Little Eddie and friends are far, far from the Beltway — something I’m more thankful for all the time. Telling the story of the need for private school choice doesn’t require getting mired down in a discussion of “bad schools.” Take the case of Colorado Kids Win, for example. The emphasis is on scholarship tax credits for kids in need of a more suitable learning environment.
Now don’t get me wrong. There certainly are some “bad” schools in Colorado, and in the nation as a whole. But McShane correctly gives us a few reasons why we don’t need to obsess over them to make the argument. First, he opens the door to new research that reminds us there are many dimensions of what makes a school “good” or “bad.” Now, not all dimensions are created equal, but as we learn more about them, it’s good to give parents some leeway.
The author later gives some helpful insights into how to balance parental choice, school autonomy, and quality standards. Does he have the right answer? Maybe, maybe not. But kudos for taking on the tough questions. The most interesting point he raises, though, is about automobiles and how consumer choice and competition has improved them over time. The lesson for education?
Rather than thinking we can regulate bad schools out of existence, a better goal is to develop a system that continuously improves what we think a “bad” school is.
A lot of times when people debate about educational choice, they get stuck in the ruts of considering only existing schools and models. Why not reimagine learning by putting power in the hands of parents and the educators they partner with to serve their kids’ needs? Such a dynamic understanding makes the future look brighter.
Anyone else out there agree with me? Raise your hands. Hopefully, someone will call on you before your arm gets too tired.