Vol.#22: The Dark Side of Choosing School Choice

Freedom-of-choice-a22077920During the time I was visiting these four schools and writing these posts, this article was released about Wake County dropping the choice plan. However, when I entered my address in the Student Assignment page today, I still got a total of 16 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 9 high schools in varying Base, Calendar, and Magnet options for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. This still looks far from resolved, however.

So…what does all this mean? After visiting an array of options as both a teacher and a parent, what is my final analysis? I have two responses to these two questions, one for each of my two roles.

As a parent…

I don’t question for a minute that every single parent wants what is best for his or her child. Each child is unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best fit to education. Schools are not factories and students are not widgets.

However, it’s been stated that too many choices is stressful, and limiting choices actually makes one feel more pleased with his/her choice in the end. I mean, say what you will about the disadvantages of small towns who have no option but the one Elementary school, but those parents also don’t always wonder if they should have applied for that “International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme” instead of the “Creative Arts and Science” program for their son or daughter.

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, gives a great TED Talk on just this concept:

At the 7:30 mark, he gets to the crux of the two negatives of too many choices:

  1. It causes paralysis in making any choice at all. 
  2. The imagined “missed opportunities” of all the other choices subtract enjoyment from the choice you made, even if it’s a really good choice. This means that parents, even if their child is given an amazing experience at a school, will feel less satisfied with that school because of the many other opportunities being offered.

As a teacher…

When discussing the programs with these amazing colleagues, whether the pragmatic dealings with tardies at Enloe or getting enough materials for starting a new school at WYMLA, I was struck by how much the same their concerns are of any teacher. Materials. Support. Class size. Access to technology. It all boils down to the best way to help learners learn.

If we were we in an ideal world, where schools were really funded and magnet programs were only about finding options that best suit the needs of learners, I might be a stronger proponent of a choice model.

The problem, at least as I see it being implemented, is that there is a finite and ever-dwindling pile of resources. Therefore, programs have to “sell themselves” as the most innovative new program on the block to look most “worthy” to gain access to the technologies, the smaller class sizes, and so on.

And when we have finite resources, this means it then has to be taken from elsewhere. This is the reality. A teacher somewhere has 38 in a class so someone else can have 18.  (I’ve seen it – it was my science teammate last year. This makes science labs rather difficult.) Someone has four computers in a classroom that are a decade old (*ahem* my hand raised) because someone else has one-to-one laptops. They need it for their “special program”.

Bottom line, every school would benefit from collaboration to innovate new ways to old challenges, a smaller teacher-to-pupil ratio, and more access to new technologies. All schools (the teachers, administration, and students) need this, not those who are lucky enough to be at a “special school”.

Dare I say… all  our schools should be special?

Do I sound bitter? I don’t mean to. I honestly don’t begrudge my colleagues. I just believe we’ve created a system cloaked in the party line of empowering students and parents, where the reality has school systems and educators fighting over the last scraps like dogs over the last lean bone.

Too cynical? Do I have it all wrong? Help me see the light in the comments…

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