When parents exercise their responsibility to orchestrate their children’s education, some choose to educate their children at home, but most parents “hire” professional educators. They might hire private tutors, but usually they “hire” public or private schools. In either case, these educators are to assist with the child’s education, and the parents should have the ability to choose a school that will accomplish that purpose without undermining their authority. And, if parents see that their children are not learning well, they should be able to choose a different school.
For parents who have enough money, this option already exists. If they are unhappy with the public school to which their child has been assigned, they can send their child to a private school, or they can move to a school district or attendance zone that will serve their children better.
But parents who don’t have enough money are often stuck with the school to which the government has assigned them, regardless of the quality of the school. Even under federal guidelines that require perennially poor schools to offer parents an option to transfer their children to another school within the district, it is not uncommon for the other schools to be just as poor as the ones the children would be leaving.
Most public education reform proposals deal with systemic changes, and there is no doubt the system needs to be changed. But the success or failure of systemic changes can only be determined after years of implementation and evaluation. When these attempts fail to produce more successful students (which has been the consistent record over the past forty years), new systemic changes are proposed which will take yet more years to implement and evaluate. And, of course, each new experiment demands more money from taxpayers than the ones before.
Why do we continue to sacrifice generations of students to these social experiments, hoping the next change will be the silver bullet for all children?
The losers are the children who cannot regain the years lost to these failed experiments. The communities where these children live also suffer, as do parents who are trapped in a system that won’t allow them to choose better options for their children.
Our state long ago determined that there should be public schools funded by the taxpayers; we’re not debating that here. We do, however, believe parents should have a considerable amount of control over how those tax funds are spent on their own children.
The solution is to allow more freedom for parents to choose—or even start—schools that best meet their children’s needs. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways which will maintain (enhance, actually) the opportunities for all students, even in the public school realm.
This is an excerpt from Governing By Principle, MCPP’s ten principles to guide public policy.