Why #SchoolChoice is an Unfortunate Distraction rather than a Solution for the Challenges Facing Education in America.

So much of the energy devoted to education reform and improvement, in recent years, has been focused on charter schools and the “school choice” movement. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a charter school, what was once an intriguing idea has become an unfortunate distraction to our efforts to transform education in America. 

In one respect, charter schools are just like so many of our nation’s public schools in that some are more successful than others and others are not successful at all. The value of charters, if they were utilized as initially conceived, is they provide an opportunity to create a laboratory, if you will, to experiment with new and innovative methodologies, outside the framework of the traditional public school system. The charter concept is now used for a totally different purpose. Advocates have concluded that letting parents choose the best school for their children is the solution for education in America.  

On the surface, the logic seems to resonate and the need for lotteries provides evidence of demand for some charters. The other side of that coin is an inability to meet demand in a local community begs the question of how “school choice” can serve the needs of fifty million American children.  This is one of the fundamental flaws in the argument that “school choice” is the solution for the U.S.  If creating charter schools for every child is impractical, what is the purpose of “school choice?”

Are “school choice” leaders content to offer a way for some families to escape what are perceived to be bad schools, assuming they win the lottery. Are they okay with letting the rest fend for themselves? What are the consequences for public schools who must operate with fewer resources and, possibly, a more challenging student population?

Another flaw is the pervasive belief that low academic achievement is the result of bad schools and bad  teachers.  Parochial schools and charters can also be found on both ends of the performance continuum. That aggregate academic performance has not responded to a bevy of innovative methodologies and initiatives, introduced over a period of decades, ought to give reformers pause.

If the problem is not who teaches and where but a consequence of what they teach and how, we are on a path to inevitable failure. We must be willing to open our minds to the obvious and address the dysfunctionality of the education process at work in schools throughout the U.S.  Ignoring the true cause is comparable to treating Covid 19 with a litany of antibiotics that cannot, now, and will never kill the coronavirus. Incorrect diagnoses rarely produce favorable prognoses.

If we want better outcomes for our students, we must do more than change school buildings and teachers. We must change what we ask teachers and students to do and what we expect them to accomplish. To paraphrase motivational icon, Zig Ziglar, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same disappointing outcomes.

It is not that advocates of “school choice” are bad people rather they are misguided. The only future the “school choice” movement can offer America is an education system that will become increasingly more bifurcated. It is a future with many winners, to be sure, but with far more losers because the push toward privatization siphons the lifeblood from public school districts, whatever their track record. We must reduce the number of Americans who could be counted among the “have nots,” not widen the chasm that separates us.

Now, looking back, we can tabulate the opportunity cost from years of disappointing academic achievement because we chose the wrong path to meaningful education reform. The other portion  of that opportunity cost would be benefits forgone; benefits that would have accrued for the millions of our sons and daughters whose academic distress could have been replaced by successful achievement.  

Click on this link to examine The Hawkins Model© and you will learn more about the dysfunctionality of the existing education process and how we can change the future for every girl and boy in America. You are also asked to believe it is not too late to act; in fact, this may be the perfect time to make a change.

There is a need for transformational change in public education, but do we have the will?

If you are teacher, do you see anything on the horizon that gives you reason to expect the daily stress you endure will be lessened and the success of students will be assured?

Recent studies have found that American classrooms can place teachers under stress; often debilitating stress. This is not news. Teachers and their most capable leaders have known this for decades. If non teachers would spend just one day in the classroom of a Kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher, with more students with which any one teacher should be required to deal—students with wide disparity in academic preparedness—they would experience real stress; from the first bell to the last, each and every day.

We could say the same thing about the desired academic achievement of students. Every meaningful measure of academic achievement conducted over the past few decades has demonstrated that children of color, with economic disadvantages, and for whom English is a second language, struggle. How we justify ignoring this data for so long is difficult to understand.

Like all the challenges facing public education, stress and low achievement are symptoms of dysfunction and obsolescence; it is systemic.

As a teacher, you cannot change public education in America from your classroom. Just doing your job requires more than most people outside the field of education can imagine. Systemic changes to public education in America, however, cannot happen without your individual and collective advocacy. Your unions and associations can be powerful forces to drive positive change, but it is never enough to register complaints and protests. Instead, be a powerful advocate for a positive, new idea.

If you are a principal, you lack the authority to act unilaterally even if you had a solution yet you, too, can be a positive advocate for change. Seek support from your colleagues and from your professional associations on a state-wide or national scale. Complaints and protest are the tactics of the powerless, however, even for administrators. What we need from principals and administrators is for them to rally around a positive solution to the challenges facing our public schools and urge their districts to act.

Superintendents for school corporations and school districts have a clearly defined responsibility to provide the highest possible quality of education to the children within their district’s boundaries. If you are fortunate to lead an affluent school district with historically high achievement, you may feel confident that a quality education is exactly what each of your students receives. You also know that not all your colleagues and their school corporations are so fortunate.

Teachers, administrators, and school boards have not come forward with an alternative approach that can transform public education in America and neither have policy makers and state legislators. They have not found a solution because they are not looking outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. And, no, school choice and charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools are a diversion that distracts us from what should be our primary focus. We must find a new, comprehensive, and integrated process that works for every child, whatever their unique requirements, and supports rather than impedes the efforts of every teacher.  We need all educators and public officials to open their minds to the possibility of a better way. Then, we need educators, at every level, to use their individual and collective power as positive advocates to fight for that solution.

Superintendents of community school districts with multiple schools and thousands of students who struggle must become more than just advocates for change. They have an obligation to be powerful, positive leaders in relentless pursuit of success for their kids. These superintendents and school boards know that the teachers of your struggling schools are no less qualified or capable than their colleagues in high performing schools. Further, you know that few if any of the innovative methodologies, technologies or curricula you have employed have made sustainable progress.

Sustainable, transformative change must commence with an acknowledgement that what we have been doing for decades will not work no matter how hard we ask teachers to work or how many new and innovative ideas we employ. Putting new wine in old wineskins will not produce the quality education process that our children, their communities, and our society so desperately need.

In a new book I am working hard to complete, I will introduce an education model designed to produce the outcomes we need. This education model has been crafted to place teachers and students in an environment in which they can thrive and with a process focused on success. You need not wait for my new book, however, to examine the model.

Visit my website at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ and take a look at the model with the hope that, at the very least, you will discover some ideas worth your time and consideration. You may be pleasantly surprised to find an education model and process that will resonate with educators; a process that will make it easier for teachers to teach and for kids to learn. Have no illusions, however, that teaching will be easy. Teaching children is challenging work and this model will not alter that reality. It will, however, make it achievable and remove much of the stress for both teachers and their students.

If you are a superintendent, consider implementing the model in one of your low performing schools. What do you have to lose? Students in those schools have been struggling for years. If you are principal, strive to enlist support from some of you colleagues and present an action plan to your superintendent. If you are a teacher talk about the model with your colleagues and then approach your principals.

Please make time to read the model. Are the struggling students of your schools and community not worth an hour or less of your time?  

Finally, if you are a parent and you like what you read, share it with everyone you know. Proceed as if the lives of your sons and daughters depend on it because, indeed, they do.