Hello! Glad to see you’ve made your way to our news tab. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been breaking down ED100’s ten modules for the past several blogs. ED100 is an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the problems California schools face and possible remedies to those problems. This week we’ll be taking a closer look at Module 5 which discusses types of schools as well as the choices and factors that go into choosing where to send your child.
Location, location, location. This factor can be the major determinant in where your child goes to school. Zip code essentially determines which schools you can and can’t choose from. While wealthy families can simply move to a different zip code, poorer families are usually stuck within poorer districts which, unsurprisingly, house the lowest performing schools. Consequently, one of the major recent school reforms is trying to get students allowed to choose where they go to school regardless of where they live. The Open Enrollment Act allows students a way out of this situation. It requires that students enrolled in the state’s 1000 lowest-scoring schools be permitted to transfer to a high-scoring one in another district, provided there are open desks.
On paper CA schools look incredibly diverse in terms of students’ socioeconomic background. However, schools themselves are separated heavily on the basis of school district. This is partly due to the problems addressed in the previous paragraph as well as the fact that families prefer to send their children to schools that have students of similar background. Since diversity is a common goal of most schools, the question has to be asked: should families have a choice of schools? In other words, should we be okay with this increase in segregation or should we limit the freedoms parents have over their child’s education? Not an easy question to answer. It’s also important to keep in mind that schools may have selective policies which usually benefit those who ask to be selected. However, selection requires small actions from parents (ie. filling out a form) which benefits only those families who demonstrate advocacy.
Other than public schools, parents have the option to send their children to charter, private, or community schools. Charter schools are tax funded public schools that have loosely defined attendance areas. They are run separately from the local school district but are forced to follow certain guidelines and achieve specific results. This promotes experimentation and innovation while allowing parents to pick and choose the schools that do it best, kind of like a business. The major downside of charter schools is a significant loss of public school funds (remember more attendance equals more funds). Interestingly enough, charter schools have about the same scores as their public school counterparts. Unlike enrollment in charter schools which has increased steadily, enrollment in private schools is slowly declining. It’s difficult to compare private schools to public schools because of the significant socioeconomic advantages that private school families usually have, the unique testing methods private schools use, and other accounting and tax related discrepancies. However, it’s good to know that private schools, which are usually religiously affiliated, are a good option for those who can afford them. Community schools are a newer movement that advocate for a broader role that schools play in students’ lives. The issue with these schools is that in order to go beyond the scope of teaching, they need coordinated help from various organizations to bring assets (ie. health services, after school support, etc.) to the partnership.
Now what about variables within a specific type of school? Principals, according to the Center For Teaching Quality, have the largest impact on student learning as the leaders of the school. I’ve discussed in previous blogs the importance of having a strong leader present in a school system. I’d like to add here that Project SCIFI works to increase mentor-mentee interactions through empirical learning, fostering a classroom environment with stronger leadership roles and more successful students. The bad news for CA is that it is difficult to recruit good principals due to non-competitive salaries, a lack of associate principals at most schools, and a huge number of teachers and students to preside over. Poaching, which is hiring good principals from other schools leaving that school with a job vacancy, contributes to the principal turnover rate being a short four years. Facilities are another important factor, as studies have shown that a lack of good facilities holds back students’ abilities. You may also want to consider the climate or culture of the school. Is bullying a persistent issue? Are uniforms required? Bullying has been shown to dramatically reduce student potential while uniforms usually correlate with an increase in academic performance. Although not the answer for everyone, perhaps homeschooling should be looked into more.
Finally, there’s the issue of what to do with problematic students in terms of discipline and safety. When kids get in trouble at school, teacher are the ones who have to decide how to respond. Some schools, especially in the south, still use corporal punishment, arguing that suspensions are even worse for the student. Other schools believe that rewards reinforce good behavior better than punishments discourage bad behavior. Regardless, educators and administrators all seem to agree that suspensions and expulsions do more harm than good, propelling delinquents on a track to dropping out of school. Alternatives to suspensions and expulsions keep the student in an active learning environment which is crucial. The good news is that school incidents and juvenile arrest rates have been on the decline for years now (Juvenile Arrests).
Thanks for reading to the end of this blog! Don’t forget to check out ED100 if you want more in depth information about the topics I’ve been covering. I’ll be back next week with a review of the sixth module which looks at schools’ curriculums.