Wednesday, November 12, 2008

School Choice Event at AEI

I went to the AEI event on School Choice on Monday – and it was a great event. It had promise with Sol Stern, Joe Williams, Robert Enlow, Howard Fuller and Rick Hess on the panel and it lived up to that promise. For once in DC we got an honest discussion on a major issue and it seemed that there was even some agreement on what needed to happen in the future.

The first agreement is that our urban schools are a disaster. Howard Fuller was emphatic that making kids go to these schools is the social justice issue of our time. As many bloggers are quick to highlight, President-elect Obama is currently exercising his school choice by selecting the best school for his daughters. Howard correctly points out that every parent should be able to do that for their children.

Right here in DC, we have a middle school disaster- - shouldn’t those children have the right to immediately go to a better school. They are not safe and they are not learning. Obviously that school is not going to be fixed in the near future. I will paraphrase Howard again that it is a “grinding hypocrisy” that we won’t let some kids chose a better school but we would never send our kids to that school. It is criminal what is happening to poor kids today.

The point of contention seems to be whether you support school choice for systemic change for all schools or for social justice for kids in disaster schools. Sol Stern and Rick Hess believe we won’t achieve systemic change because there is no real penalty for losing students in our system. Sol goes on to say that we will not improve if we continue to use whole language and other poor curriculum and get teachers from ed schools who cannot teach.

My take away is that all of the speakers had some great points that can combine into a comprehensive education policy to improve our schools. Howard Fuller is an amazing and passionate speaker and he is dead on that it is criminal that we send kids to disaaster schools when other kids get to go to better schools. Enlow is right as well – we need to put more pressure on public schools to improve by creating competition but that pressure has to come in the form of better programs for competition. Sol Stern is right that the classroom is where it all happens and we all need to ensure we have better teachers and better curriculum.

I leave you with Howard Fullers great wrap up – I am paraphrasing again as I couldn’t write fast enough to get the direct quote: “I am not a supporter of choice or charter schools – I am supporter of educating kids”. That is truly the bottom line.

For more on school choice – the Alliance for School Choice has launched a great a new website:

NOTE: AEI is 2 for 2 in my book right now for holding the actual meaningful panel discussions. It seems like most DC panel discussion are mindless drivel because we could have read the paper or they are an endless tribute to KIPP, TFA and Michelle Rhee. The last two events at AEI were actual debates about significant issues affecting education!! If only all more panels could have actual discussions – the world would be a better place.

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