A slightly different version of this piece with a few dozen comments resides at The Huffington Post. If you've rather read it there, click here.
I’ve worked directly inside schools, with schools, at Teachers College, Columbia, served as a teacher librarian, literacy staff developer, tech staff developer, program manager, educational administrator and talked to parents, teachers, and students from traditional and alternative settings (both inside and outside of school). I find that more often than not, children and adults who are a part of an alternative, private, or “elite” education value and enjoy their experience more than those in traditional school. What I find frustrating though is that this often only available to those with the funds or wherewithal to make it happen.
If they have the means, I find that most parents where I live in New York City send their children to private schools. There are also some who have figured out how to navigate the system to send their children to elite public schools that seem filled with mostly white and Asian peers. I know few well-to-do parents who send their children to regular public school. I understand, this is only my experience, and that there are exceptions, but even if I’m off, the reality is that many families can’t enable their children to learn the way they feel is best because of their financial or life/career circumstances.
Everyone should have access to the education opportunities they feel are best for their children. Here is a solution that could provide more choice to more families.
What if instead of giving money to schools, funds were attached to the child and those funds went directly to the education provider. For parents who were homeschooling or unschooling this would be in the form of parents providing receipts that could be deducted from their taxes. For public schools, students would enroll and the funds would follow them. This would require some schools to grow, others to stay the same and others to shrink, redesign (likely with input from families) or close.
If parents wanted to put together learning co-ops they could pool their money to do that. If someone wanted to open an alternative school, it would be easier because the funds would be tied to the students so they wouldn’t have to worry about only kids who could afford this option being able to come up with tuition. If the schools cost more than the per student fee, the additional fee would be determined by tax bracket with those in the higher brackets paying more and the lower less, but still giving everyone a greater chance to attend a school of choice and subsidizing based on income.
Parents and their children, rather than the government, would determine what was best for each family. For some it might look like traditional school with standardized tests. For others it might look more like an apprenticeship model where children who are ready, begin learning in a field of interest, perhaps partnered with a business where they may later work. For some this might look like a school that follows the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Montessori or Reggio Emilia approach. Some may choose a Democracy school or unschool setting. Ultimately parents would be empowered to select an educational method in which they felt their children would best succeed and even take a large role in helping to form such schools.
There would be no high stakes testing. There could be some opt in tests with samples as they do in countries like Finland. Their would likely be authentic portfolio development that is created as a support to the student first and foremost.
Some schools would have waiting lists, as they do today, and if so, it would make sense to open up another similar school in the area. The parents who want that, could help make that happen. Some schools would shrink as they do now and would either change what they do to attract more students and stabilize, or if they didn’t offer what seemed best for children, they would continue to lose the ability to have high enough enrollment to make it worth staying open.
This idea would be taking control from the government and giving it to the people, empowering them to do what they know and believe is best for their children.
So, why can’t we do this?