Sunday, November 13, 2005

School Monopolies

Omaha residents have been wrestling recently with the politics of public education. In particular, the Omaha Public Schools have sought to expand their jurisdiction by annexing other continguous districts in western parts of the city. Parents in affected districts are rallying to maintain independence. On the other side, some parents are sporting "One City, One District" bumper stickers.

Charges of economic and racial segregation lurk in the background of these disputes, with concerns raised about migration out of the OPS district as students move west. However, it should be noted that as long as students are free to attend the high schools of their choice, and students tend to choose schools close to their neighborhoods, expanding the district won't make individual schools any more integrated racially or economically than they are now.

It would, however, possibly help improve the statistical results of the OPS district, making the district seem a little more successful than it otherwise would appear to be. Averages might increase, but one must remember that you can drown crossing a stream that is an average of a foot deep.

The problem here is more significant than the racial or economic composition of these schools. Public education leaders want to keep the focus on the kids, rather than what they are doing to help the kids get better. It was the late George Busbee, I recall, who once made the comment, "If you want better prisons, give me better prisoners." There is an element of truth in this, but it is not the entire explanation. Consider what happens when poor children from minority races get into private religious based schools. They do well, and it costs less money to accomplish those results. It is time to stop believing our educational results depend on what economic strata we come from or what color our skin tone happens to be. Kids of all shades and backgrounds can succeed given the right opportunities.

For better opportunities, the direction that Omaha should consider is not a larger district with more bureacratic practices, but smaller ones that are accountable to educate their students. Administrators don't like the accountability of market choices, but that will be the path to excellence. Provide some opportunities for innovation, and let the parents choose what they think is best for their kids. (And of course I agree that parents have high responsibilities here -- we should not expect the schools to raise our kids for us.)

I found this recent article from National Review on public education myths to be very enlightening:
It contains a lot of food for thought about some things we thought were true regarding education policy.

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