Tuesday, June 22, 2004

School choice provides parent sovereignty 

As the first state to have charter schools, many other education writers look at Minnesota for the latest on the charter school movement. The Christian Science Monitor does so today, telling the story of how the movement is forcing the big-city schools to improve.
While many urban districts struggle to retain white, middle-class families, Minneapolis is also losing low-income, minority ones, primarily to charter schools. It's led to an enrollment crisis for the district, which loses state money with each departing student, and now has 800 surplus classrooms. But many observers point out that this is exactly how choice is supposed to work: better options for individual students, and a competitive educational landscape that may, in the end, force all the schools to improve.
This paragraph will not make Nick Coleman happy.

But the Monitor misunderstands the school district's response to this competitive landscape.

The district has delayed the school closings and mergers its interim superintendent proposed this year, and is instead planning a series of community conversations to engage parents in the restructuring decisions. In an effort to get a jump-start on the tough achievement-gap issue - as well as bring families into the public schools early on - the district hopes to expand its pre-K and all-day kindergarten options. It's also exploring specialized programs: gender- and culture-specific schools, performing arts specialities, and dual-immersion language programs.
As Mitch pointed out in February (my link here) the reason for these closing was a funding deficit combined with a desire to embarrass Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature for budget cuts. See this MPR report on how well it worked. I don't think they were ever really serious about closing these schools -- there was no additional money sent to stop the closings -- and so the liberals have resorted to the Washington Monument strategy. (For those not familiar with the strategy.) Nor has it stopped the carping against the Republicans.

All this should be a challenge for the new superintendent, who seems willing to continue the confrontations with the state.