Rating districts on school choice
Highest-rated California district earned B-minus in national survey.
By Gloria Romero
(From the Orange County Register, Jan. 25th 2013)
As our nation marks National School Choice Week, through Feb. 2., it is intriguing for Californians to reflect on exactly what is meant by "choice" in public education, and how well California schools fare in offering choice options and policies to parents.
Toward this end of exploring the critical role of school choice in the future of education reform, Russ Whitehurst and his team at the Brookings Institution recently released the Education Choice and Competition Index, which grades more than 100 cities and large suburbs on the degree to which they empower parents with publicly funded school choices.
The intent of the ECCI is to raise awareness of the differences among districts and elected and appointed school board leaders in their support of school choice, provide a framework for advancing the school choice dialogue and debate, and spotlight the decisions made by education officials with respect to choice options.
Undoubtedly, over the past two decades there have been notable advances in empowering greater parental choice for middle-class and poor parents (wealthier families can always opt for private schools). Competition and choice in public education is increasingly being cited as the path to ensuring student success for all. When parents are locked into sending their kids to chronically underperforming schools because of their ZIP code and the absence of choice policies, those schools won't be restructured - whether by conversion to a charter school, reconstituting school personnel, including teacher assignments, shuttering them completely, etc.
It didn't take long for the ECCI to be attacked by status quo interests that have long defended current education policies and practices. These criticisms, largely, have simply repeated the dual drumbeats of 1) "We need more money," which, indeed, we need; however, if it's going to be allocated in the same way it is now, absent any reforms, then we are simply going to see the same results; and 2) "But it's those kids who come from poor homes."
Of the two criticisms, the second is the more insidious. It blames victims and exonerates the education bureaucracy of any wrongdoing in perpetuating a system in drastic need of overhauling.
The ECCI incorporates several factors when ranking jurisdictions, including availability of alternative schools, policies on virtual education, open enrollment, transportation opportunities, funding following students, school quality, etc. The full report can be accessed at www.brookings.edu.
Thirteen California districts were among the 107 districts evaluated nationwide.
California's highest-scoring district - San Diego Unified - earned a B-minus, followed by four earning a C: Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and Fresno Unified.
Not one school district in Orange County received a passing grade. Capistrano Unified led the pack, with a D. Santa Ana Unified and Garden Grove Unified received F's.
The ECCI is an imperfect tool. But the results are eye-opening and provide a valid snapshot of the quality of education choice and competition within large U.S. school districts. A foundation for supporting choice is recognizing its catalytic effects in jump-starting educating reforms and stimulating academic successes.
With too many of California students not graduating, and too many others falling far below the academic proficiencies of students internationally with whom they will need to compete in a global economy, we can no longer ignore the grade.