2/20/07

Does a flower turn to the sun?

I tend not to address points raised by people commenting on posts. In the back-and-forth of such discussions, people sometimes say things they don't mean or take extreme positions. In other cases they are just trying to be provocative, especially when they can remain anonymous.

But a discussion on Greg Mankiw's blog caught my attention. That's because a couple of the folks suggested that parents don't really have the knowledge to make decisions about the quality of schools.

Between 2002-2004 I was actively involved in the fight to get school vouchers for families in DC. I often heard the argument that parents don't know how to choose between good and bad schools and that, anyway, parents had enough choices with the school system's "out-of-boundary" options and charters (that had also been opposed).

Without getting too deep into the out-of-boundary program, I'll point out that Woodrow Wilson HS, considered one of the best schools in the city, received 520 applications from parents out of the school's zone. That is even though it had ZERO available spaces for students to transfer to the school and parents KNEW there would be few spaces available. Deal Junior High, a feeder school for Wilson, had 532 applications, but only ten openings.

At the same time, D.C. parents shunned the low achieving schools. Anacostia Senior High School had 80 spaces available, but only seven applicants. Ballou SHS had 220 available spaces, but only three applicants. In 2002, fewer than 800 of the 7,000 children who applied for out-of-boundary spots were granted permission, mainly because many of the available slots are in low-performing schools (the same problem hindering NCLB). From my on-the-ground conversations with parents, visits to schools, going door-to-door in neighborhoods, based on community meetings I attended and speeches I gave, parents were quite aware of the level of violence and the level of achievement in the schools.

The main point is, based on what I wrote above: intellectuals, experts, and politicians greatly underestimate the knowledge and information that parents have about schools.


Families at a Washington Scholarship Fund orientation meeting, April 2004



Families at a Washington Scholarship Fund school fair, June 2004

CJL
See also Jeffrey Alan Miron, Edspresso, Carnival of Education!, The Voice for School Choice, Education Week,

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

HI
MY NAME IS BARBARA. I HAVE 2 GIRLS, JESSICA WHO IS 6, AND JEREMY, WHO IS 4. AFTER WATCHING THE ZULA PATROL ON PBS, JESSICA HAS DECIDED TO BE A SCIENTIST WHO LOOKS AT THE STARS. THE OTHER DAY SHE TOLD ME THAT SHE KNOWS WHY THERE’S NIGHT AND DAY. I KNOW IT’S BECAUSE SHE SAW IT ON THE ZULA PATROL. JEREMY LOVES THE CHARACTERS. HIS FAVORITE IS THE ORANGE GUY—I THINK HIS NAME IS MULTO. ANYWAY, I’M AN ENGINEER AND I LOVE THE FACT THAT MY KIDS ARE REALLY LEARNING SOMETHING FROM TV. CHECK IT OUT.

Lisa said...

I think you're right. Parents know a lot more about what to look for in a school than they are given credit for. Parents have a lot of drive when it comes to making sure their children get a good education.

Here via the education carnival

Brad Warbiany said...

Typical of government. Political pressure was too strong, so they allowed as mild of a school-choice proposal as they could with "out-of-boundary" schools. But they do it in such a way that it can't succeed, because they know there won't be enough spots for people to actually use their choice.

cjl said...

Lisa,

Then that means I'm right. Because if you think I'm right, and I think you're right...

It could be that parents do have "rational ignorance" when they don't have choices or that the choices are so controlled that they aren't real choices.

But that doesn't mean that once people do have options that they'll continue to be rationally ignorant. The fear of some or many school administrators may be that once parents do have options that they'll exercise them...

CJL

cjl said...

Brad,

Agreed. There does seem to be a strategy of allowing the most disgruntled out. Otherwise, the most disgruntled could lead a revolution.

CJL

The Vegas Art Guy said...

The problem is that the NEA etc don't care about students or parents, merely protecting their power base and teachers. I know that many future teachers like the idea of school choice and vouchers and I think that the teacher's unions and the NEA are going to be in for a suprise in the next few years when we join the teaching ranks. I am writing an op-ed piece for one of my classes on this very subject.

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