My view on school choice is that if parents, and not just rich parents, have a real opportunity to find a better school than what they are being offered, then they should be able to move over to that school and have the tax dollars follow them.
Virtually no parent would have their child just up and leave their current school for unknown pastures without having very compelling reasons for this. Humans are naturally cautious and anyone who thinks they would do such a thing does not understand human nature.
A Bandaid lottery-based offering like Open Enrollment is not sufficient to offer the kind of true options which many families in Madison need. If the current school is indeed not serving a certain student, then the MMSD board should make it easy and practical for a parent or guardian to vote with their feet to someplace else that might be a better fit.
This means embracing alternative schools which could be more sensitive and flexible in meeting an individual child’s needs, whatever those needs might be. Rather than teachers being forced to accept ever-changing dictates and conditions from bureaucrats, politicians, and school board members who have no experience in actually teaching children, teachers could again be respected and treated like true professionals, ply their ever-evolving craft as they gain experience, and receive a good living wage. (The latter goal is fundamental to making this happen.) If this happens, then a formerly unresponsive regular public school may seriously reform in the face of an alternative school in its neighborhood, or at least work in mutual cooperation with that alternative school in the best interests of a child who clearly needs something different. What’s wrong with that?
Ideally, the end result would operate like the piano teachers group I was part of in Sauk County, or the one offered here in Madison. Yes, we were technically “competitors,” but we were even more so collaborators who met regularly to discuss what we found worked best for our students. Sharing knowledge and insights between other independent teachers is what you do when you attend conferences about teaching piano. It is always collaborative and mutually supportive. Indeed, it is actually not rare for teachers to send their students to another teacher whom we feel can meet that student’s needs better.
So why is that so out of the question when it comes to the establishment of charter or voucher schools whose teachers and administrators can then work collaboratively with the regular public schools? I am often astounded with the level of hostility towards the best needs of children which I’ve seen coming from people (ie, WEAC) who adamantly oppose real school alternatives in this regard. From what I’ve observed over many years, you will never convince me that the best needs of children are ever top-most in their calculations.
Don’t believe it? Try this: ask any supporter of Madison Teachers Inc whether they would stand by the total destruction of their union if it were made clear by any objective standard that this would be in the best needs of the children they teach. I have done this a number of times in conversations regarding education and teacher’s unions, and not once could I ever get a “yes.” The stock response would be “that would just never happen so it’s an irrelevant question.”
Dissatisfied parents, who are paying for our public schools, should never have to just sit and helplessly watch their own children, the only ones they will ever have, being ground up and spit out by a decision-makers from “Downtown” who haven’t even met their child once, and have less interest in ever doing so. I believe that this primitive, ignorant, and obsolete model of schooling must change, and it will only do so when true alternatives are embraced by the MMSD Board to make this happen as soon as possible.