My mom texted me two days ago that a story on school choice was going to be on the OPB Program Think Out Loud. While the interview style often strikes me as a little stilted, this is still one of the best programs to listen to if you’re trying to keep informed on local issues. As I was feeding my children a breakfast that was stretching into its second hour, I listened to the school choice piece and couldn’t help but madly gesturing, furrowing my brow, and trying not to say anything that I wouldn’t want my children to repeat in good company (Vera is in the copy-everything-anyone-says phase of being two years old).
Why did this particular show make me irritable? It presented the school situation in the area as full of abundant and diverse choices for each individual student so that he/she may thrive in the perfect learning environment that is suited to him/her. While I will not deny that there are many, many good teachers in Portland AND many, many schools that have solid programming, I would not say that all students in the area have abundant options and choices. We do not have equitable public schools, and many students in the poorest performing schools (and those with fewest resources) do not have the same choices and options as their peers in other neighborhoods.
The Portland Metropolitan area is going through some fairly major changes to transfer policies and with new open enrollment laws that will allow students to apply or lottery in to a school outside their district. We also have a fair number of charter school options in addition to private schools placed in communities throughout the Portland area. But just because a few hundred students may have parents who find a way to go through the process of applying for a transfer to a different district or charter school OR scrape up enough money to send their child to a private school does not mean that we have an equitable system where all students can learn and grow.
We’ve been talking about this issue a lot in my classroom at PSU, and many of our discussions lead back to the same place — charter schools, transfer policies, vouchers, and open enrollment policies do not fix the root of the problem, especially for those students in the most need. We need to focus our energy and resources on creating a strong, thriving public neighborhood school in each neighborhood so that even students whose parents choose not to bus them out of the area, to place them in a themed charter school, or to apply for a scholarship for a private school will have the education they need and deserve.
Okay…stepping off my soap box. I think that all of the education issues that I’ve been teaching about are coming more vividly to life as I think about school options for my own daughter. The struggle to find a beautiful, thoughtful, strong, affordable preschool program alone has driven home the fact that not all of us really have the choice to send our children to bilingual school, to an art program, to a wonderful music class…and that these options really should be open to all.