Does school quality follow location?

Dave Murray considers the question of inequality between schools, that some are manifestly better than others. Does that really violate the compact we’ve made to the children in our state, this expectation of equity in education? Murray asks,

For one thing, there shouldn’t be “better” schools. Anybody walking into any Michigan public school should be assured they are getting the same quality education. Otherwise we are continuing a system of haves and have-nots.

The difficulty is that such a view ends up defining equality down. the only way that such a vision could be enacted would be to insist that all have the same minimum standard. And no more. Were there one proposal to destroy public education, this would be it.

The reality attested to over and over is that some districts care more about education than others. When we funded by millage, some were more willing — much more willing – to self levy taxes so their children had opportunities. Even now, through educational foundations and separate facility millages, districts are finding  alternate funding streams to support and sustain their programs. Moreover, even with roughly comparable schools, there will be some that excel in one area than another. If your student is a terrific math student, you want to be a in a program that has the terrific math teacher.

The entire principal of choice rests on the diversity of programs as much as it does on the variation in funding.

And to be fair,  I take what Murray meant as that students should have the same opportunity for quality education. It’s not the school, but what the school does that should be the standard. So if Fremont wants to spend one amount Forest Hills another (and they do) they may still both be adequate choices for a family — both will send out graduates able to compete and excel.

That’s another secret about a lot of our so-called “failing” schools: even there, students graduate and excel. What we want are more of them. Here, choice finally fails us. Choice cannot encourage the internal development, the growth in teachers and administrators. In that sense, choice is actually a lagging indicator of excellence, where parents choose based on past behavior. If we are going to make a difference in children’s lives we will need to create the excellence first.

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