If the School Fits: Opening a Conversation About School Choice in Baltimore

On July 12, I posted some thoughts on a New York Times article by Michael Winerip about what happened when a charter school “counseled out” a five-year-old boy. Thanks to a fighter of a mom, the child was counseled into a neighborhood school that turned out to be a great fit.

Critics of status quo education reform policies pounced on the story because 1) it’s case in which public trumped charter and small class size trumped larger, 2) it’s a perfect example of how charter schools weed out students who don’t fit their mold, 3) it put a sympathetic face on an argument that’s too often lost in the numbers – numbers that show charter schools enroll fewer homeless students and students living in poverty, fewer students with special needs, and fewer English language learners than “traditional” public schools. The Winerip story adds the human dimension.

I opined that the story is a good argument for individual attention – by which I meant the kind of attention that got this student into the right school for him. It’s also a good argument for differentiated instruction – teaching to all levels and types of learner in the same classroom. But, I opined, the question of creating a public school system rife with choices is still subject to debate.

I got a response that set my brain working. Here it is:

Actually, this article is a solid argument for schools of choice. No school can be all things to all children. The schools involved and the family in this situation have discovered this and the child is where he can now get the best services. I see this as a win.

Those of us who have the luxury of using independent schools have known this for some time; we just have the resources and interest to choose the right schools for our children. With charter schools offering options, now everyone else has the same benefits.

That’s a lot to unpack. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a series of reflections on school choice in hopes of opening up the conversation. In the meantime, post your reactions. And subscribe to stay tuned.

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3 Responses to “If the School Fits: Opening a Conversation About School Choice in Baltimore”

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful article. What we are seeing statistically is that school choice works – here in Baltimore and nationally. Why? Perhaps because the parents who care to take the time to make a choice are more focused on the needs of their children than others. Perhaps because parents who actively choose are taking the time to know what types of schools or environments work best for their particular child. And perhaps because choosing a school that you pay for means that there is more direct accountability that the institution has to you as a customer. Regardless of the reason, Baltimore is fortunate to have embraced a hybrid approach to education through charter schools. Now let’s take it to the next level by supporting tax credits or a voucher system so there is truly comprehensive choice.

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  2. I believe that I differ from many in the charter school movement in a number of ways, and one of those is related to this issue of school “choice.” As I have worked on starting a new school in Baltimore, “choice” has never been one of my major concerns or rationales. I, and some of those I am working with, are more concerned about the right of all children to a developmentally appropriate and great education, as well as the importance of democracy in education–giving teachers, students and parents voice and power in education, and making school a place where democracy is important. I would love to be part of supporting neighborhood schools, but the centralization and hierarchy in the Baltimore City school system (as well as nationally) has forced me to work in the charter arena in order to have a school that can reject the testing craze and give teachers a voice in their work. Not all charter schools are trying to do this, but some are, and there simply is not time for my child and thousands of others in this city to wait for the system to change. There are certainly many elements of the charter movement that I reject-attempts to break teacher’s unions, for-profit operators, the market model, non-student centered education, and cherry picking in charter schools to get the results that they want. But there are also a lot of things about the system zoned schools system that are wrong as well…the testing fanaticism, the lack of student, teacher and parent power, the non-elected school board, the lack of progressive education, getting rid of gym, pushing developmentally inappropriate and damaging practices into kindergarten and pre-k, segregation and concentrated poverty, among others.
    Any counseling out or cherry picking like the article was described should be strictly prevented, unless a school is specifically formed to address students with special needs. There are a lot of problems in charter school laws and organization around the country-it needs to be reformed.

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