Thursday, February 4, 2016

School Choice … Are All Schools Held to the Same Standard?

As most of us engaged in public advocacy know, the obvious answer to this question is no.  In general, those who operate outside of the structure of the public education sector (as defined by being governed by locally elected trustees) are not held to the same level of accountability.  There is a strong push (again) in the Texas Senate, led by Lt. Governor Patrick, for vouchers that allow the transfer of public funds to private schools.  Part of the argument centers around the need to provide a path to a quality public education for students who are “trapped” in a failing school or district and it’s tough to argue against that intent.

The problem as I see it is that these private schools, as well as for-profit charter schools, are not held to the same level of accountability as the schools in the more than 1,000 Texas public school districts.  So if we consider for a moment that there is a need to allow for transfer of funds to other than public ISD’s (I’m not saying that there is!), how do we ensure that we, as taxpayers, are getting the return on our investment in these schools without having some way to measure it?  More importantly, how are we focusing on the needs of the students?

Think about it for a moment.  The 84th Legislature passed a bill that will lead to assigning an A-F grade to all schools beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.  But how do we measure that?  The legislature has outlined a number of variables but much of this evaluation hinges on STAAR results.  More importantly, if we accept that a campus level grading system is logical (again, I am not saying that it is!), how do we know if private schools and charter schools are failing their students?  Without a formal accountability system to measure and evaluate performance, consistent with that imposed on public ISD’s, there simply is no way to do so.  Therein lies the problem.  If all schools are not held to the same accountability standards, how can a parent make an informed choice if they decide to look at options other than their local district?

Remember, school choice does include public schools.  But in order to evaluate how well public schools are doing as compared to other options, we have to have a clearly defined way to determine which option is best suited for individual students.  If we don’t have those parameters, we can have no assurance that the quality of the education in options outside of public education is any better.  Simply moving the problem won’t solve the issue; in fact, moving the problem actually compounds the challenge of addressing quality in our public schools.  Let’s tackle the problems together and Make Education a Priority.

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