Will Make Choices
Will the Legislature ever get it?…
Lloyd Billingsley] 2/24/06
of a school district here reveals a curious habit of California's
parents, who remain firm in their quest for choice in education.
The San Juan
Unified School district maintains a policy of "open enrollment," with
eight public "choice" schools where students post
high test scores. When enrollment was on a first-come first-served
basis, parents would camp out overnight in sleeping bags to
be first in line. The district has since switched to a lottery
system, but parents remain keen on choice because they believe
it improves results.
profile in the Sacramento Bee noted the case of a
fifth-grade student still unable to write a sentence after
five years at the school she had been assigned. After one year
at Green Oaks Fundamental Elementary, a choice school, she
was writing multi-page essays. Her mother attributes the change
to a structured program with high standards, discipline and
K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]
Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published
on topics including on popular culture, defense policy,
education reform, and many other current policy issues.
[go to Billingsley index]
will make choices," said Sue Hulsey, the director of San
Juan's open enrollment policy, in an interview with the Bee. "We
can't force people. We would rather have them in one of our
schools as opposed to private schools."
That is an
argument from self-interest. Districts get money from the state
based on student attendance. For parents things are not so
simple. Should a parent opt for a private school, their tax
money will remain behind in the government school system, and
that is not the only obstacle they face.
of open enrollment in the San Juan district has not canceled
anti-choice sentiment. Some district officials charge that
because some parents have transportation issues, this constitutes
an argument against choice. It isn't. A transportation problem
is just that.
that the choice schools "skim the cream" by grabbing
the good students, and that this hurts neighborhood schools.
As it happens, interest in school choice runs strong among
so-called disadvantaged groups that are dissatisfied with what
the schools bureaucrats choose for them. If those schools want
to retain students, they need to serve them better. And if
the choice schools want good students and involved parents,
that is not an argument against choice. It simply strengthens
the case for hard work and parental involvement.
education officials know choice works, but they strive to keep
it limited. Open enrollment, though better than the status
quo, still falls far short of full educational choice of the
type that higher education demonstrates. The student, not the
system, gets the funding, and the student selects the school.
offer other K-12 choice options and can provide disadvantaged
students with the opportunity to succeed, as Pacific Research
Izumi recently noted in Free to Learn. But charter
schools serve only a small portion of California's students.
All schools could become charter schools and all districts
could offer open enrollment, but that is unlikely under the
current government system. Those who run the system enjoy getting
millions in tax dollars, without any pressure to show results.
That is why California languishes near the bottom in student
achievement, and a tenth-grade level high-school exit exam
has become such an issue.
should establish full parental choice in education for all,
as a matter of basic civil rights. That would amount to true
open enrollment and would speed reform on all levels. When
legislators consider the issue, they should disregard the dog-eared
arguments of a reactionary establishment and think of parents
camping out overnight to get one of the few morsels of choice
the system offers.
As Sue Hulsey
put it, "Parents will make choices." Legislators
need to recognize that reality and give parents more choices
to make. CRO
2006 Pacific Research Institute