Every child is different! Different cookies for all!

In this op-ed on the74 from a charter management operator and private school choice program director in Florida, their argument for the supremacy of school choice hinges on this tautological formula:

“We don’t think one option is necessarily better than another. Every child is different. Therefore, we need a diverse set of learning options to meet the needs of every child.”

I had to stop and read that seemingly indefensible and pithy line. 

“Every child is different.”

What does this really mean? Every child is different in what sense? 

Of course, every child is not the same person, therefore each one is a distinct human being. Each has their own set of fingerprints, their own personality, and so on. But one would assume that what the authors really mean here is that every child LEARNS differently. Therefore, apparently, that means different types of schools can address different types of learners.

I’ve been a teacher of special education for 7 years, so I think I have some sense of a few of the differences and challenges that some kids can face in learning. But I would not go so far as to claim that every child learns differently. In fact, I would rather claim that most kids learn far more similarly than they do differently, in whatever way you construct the meaning of “different.”

The authors seem to agree with this in the end, as they close their piece with a call to unity: 

“Let’s continue to have healthy debates about choice, accountability, and everything else in our space. But let’s also remember that our common goals far outweigh whatever differences we may have.”

The primary difference between children seems to lie in the levels of pre-existing and acculturated knowledge and skills that they bring to a classroom. But that doesn’t mean they learn differently. It just means they come to a school at different levels of academic performance, language, and ability.

Some schools do a better job at meeting kids where they are and educating them (some charters, some district, some private). Some schools do a great job at weeding out kids with lower skills and knowledge so they can maintain the appearance of high performance (Ahem, probably quite a few private schools).

So the issue may really be more about quality (regulations) and admissions policies than it is about choice.

I know I sound pretty nit-picky here, but I think it’s important to call out fallacious statements like this. I’m totally on board with increasing the diversity of QUALITY options for low-income parents. But I’m not on board with increasing school choice just because “choice.” Nor am I on board with the idea that different kids need different schools. 

There’s a name for that. It’s called “segregation.”

There’s a whole lot of processed food in our grocery stores. Tons of options for how to increase our obesity rates and decrease our life spans. Every human being is different! Different cookies for every person!

Right?

Responsible Regulation, Not Ideology

“it’s time for school choice advocates to dispense with ideology, engage regulators, and get serious about a policy environment that promotes measurable quality, scale, and access.”

—John White, “America’s most disadvantaged students need real accountability, not ideology” on Flypaper

Snow Days and School Choice

snowday

It’s another snowy day in New York City and lots of us are wondering why Mayor de Blasio didn’t call a snow day. The roads are awful in and around the city, and travel is certainly hazardous. If I were a parent, I don’t think I’d want to send my child out into this mess– especially if their commute involved a bus or some other form of above-ground transportation.

That said, many parents have neither the option of staying home from work nor access to affordable child care. Beyond that, many students have limited access to meals outside of those provided by their public schools, so closing the city schools is a complicated decision.

One thing that makes the city schools so complicated is school choice. Over the past decade, former Mayor Bloomberg imposed school choice upon the city’s students and parents with a warlike aggression. A lot has been written about the problems with school choice in general and Bloomberg’s educational policies in particular, but little has been written about the physical and psychological toll that school choice takes upon students when the weather is as bad as it is today.

Thanks to school choice, tens of thousands of students across the city spend hours each day commuting to schools far, far away from their neighborhoods. This is because under Bloomberg’s school choice regime, the city decided not to repair and reinvest in struggling public schools. Instead, despite protests from parents and community members, Bloomberg closed struggling schools (and the data used to label a school as “struggling” was effectively meaningless) and forced students from their neighborhoods into the city’s public education marketplace. In this marketplace, a twelve-year-old eighth grader from the Bronx would be allowed to choose a high school in Far Rockaway despite the fact that their commute would be upwards of two hours each way.

Why would they do this? Maybe their cousin goes to the Rockaway school. Maybe they heard the Rockaways are cool. Maybe they’re twelve years old and didn’t read the description carefully. To school choice advocates, it makes no difference, just as it makes no difference to them that this morning, that student had a two-hour commute in a blizzard.

Which brings me back to the question of snow days. Closing city schools that serve one million students will never be an simple decision. Abandoning the madness of school choice and adopting a model that places a well-resourced school at the center of every neighborhood in the city should be a simple decision. No child should be forced to wander the city in a storm simply because free market ideologues wish it to be so.