Study: Schools of choice don't improve test scores

There is no academic benefit to Michigan’s popular school of choice program.

Almost 100,000 children – roughly 1-in-16 students in the state’s K-12 system – attend classes in a traditional public school system outside their neighborhood school district. A first-of-its-kind study by education researchers at Michigan State University found that, on average, those students fare no better on state standardized tests than similar students who stay in their home districts.

The study emerges at a time when the shape of Michigan’s public education system is being re-envisioned. Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled a “21st Century Education Commission” last week charged with examining high-performing school systems around the nation and making recommendations to revamp Michigan’s struggling schools. A prominent member of that commission pounced on the study as a reason to rein in school choice.

“Unrestrained choice is an unmitigated disaster for Michigan,” said State Education Board President John Austin. “Cross-district choice is less about learning than about competing for students and money.”

School choice advocates vehemently disagree, noting that there are many reasons beyond test scores that families choose to move their children to other districts, such as perceived safety or social issues involving their children.

But the study is likely to renew debate over the state’s broad school-of-choice policy, which traces its roots to 1994 as part of the Prop A reform in school finance. School districts were given the option of allowing students in nearby districts to enroll in their schools. The same policy change allowed the creation of charter schools.

You can see Michigan’s school of choice policy here.

More than 80 percent of traditional public school districts now accept at least some school-of-choice transfers, though some put caps on the number of students accepted.

Charter schools, where about 136,000 Michigan students now attend classes, have received a lot of research attention, but little notice has been paid to the 100,000 students who move from one traditional public school district to another (The MSU study did not evaluate students who choose to attend charters over their home districts).

School of choice has given families freedom to enroll their children where they want, but critics note that the program has also wreaked havoc on district budgets, as districts lose at least $7,176 in state funding for every neighborhood student who decides to take classes in another district.

‘No discernable difference’

The records of nearly 3 million Michigan public school students between 2005-06 and 2012-13 were analyzed in the study, conducted by MSU associate professor of education Joshua Cowen and graduate student Benjamin Creed. The study is the first to offer conclusive answers to how school of choice in Michigan affects learning.

The study found “no discernible difference in math or reading test scores between kids who transfer using Schools of Choice and those who remain in their home districts.”

Cowen is careful to draw no conclusion about the value of Michigan’s school of choice program for Michigan families, telling Bridge that there are many reasons families may choose to switch schools beyond improved academics.

With school of choice involving so many children in so many schools across the state, the findings may say less about the impact of choice than about variability in the quality of schools.

“If you looked at say the top 50 schools in Michigan and only looked at the effect of schools of choice there, my hunch would be that you see some big positive results,” Cowen told Bridge. “Similarly if school of choice kids only went to the worst 50 schools we’d see big negatives. But that’s not how this system ‒ or any choice system ‒ works. If some kids are going to some great schools under school of choice, and others aren’t, it’s not that surprising to see on average that it kind of turns into a wash.”

If not for learning, why switch?

The study’s findings aren’t a surprise to Blake Prewitt, superintendent of Ferndale Schools, which experiences a large inflow of school of choice students from Detroit, along with a smaller number of students who transfer from Ferndale to surrounding school districts.

“It’s rare that someone says my kid isn’t doing well so I’m going to move them,” Prewitt said. “People move for a myriad reasons. But academics, I believe, isn’t a reason. Honestly, a lot of it ends up being demographics (such as socioeconomics and race). There is a part of the populations that feels the grass is greener somewhere else.”

Many Michigan students are eventually finding the grass isn’t actually greener. An earlier analysis of the same data by MSU’s Cowen revealed that the majority of students who leave their home district for classrooms elsewhere eventually leave their school of choice district.

“There’s a bit of a revolving door,” Cowen told Bridge in July.

Even if school of choice doesn’t improve learning and the majority of students aren’t likely to stick in their new district, Michigan families still benefit from having the power to make decisions on what schools are best for their children, argues Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a school reform organization that promotes schools of choice and charter schools.

"We're not surprised that students who choose to leave a traditional public school and attend another traditional public school would show little academic change from the move,” Naeyaert said. “Given there are numerous reasons parents choose different schools for their children, we support their right to choose."

If parents are making those choices for reasons other than improving test scores, then perhaps it’s not surprising that test scores aren’t affected by the program, Cowen said.

But Austin, of the state school board, argues that “choice for choice’s sake” is not a valid education policy. “If cross-district choice isn’t improving education, what is the point?”

Austin offered two alternatives. First is a financial carrot-and-stick model in which districts receive less state funding for school-of-choice students than for home-district students, which would encourage investment in local programs and discourage competition for student dollars.

Second would be what Austin called “managed choice,” in which the ability to transfer to a neighboring district was controlled by caps that assure a maintenance of racial and socioeconomic diversity in all districts.

“School of choice policy,” Austin said, “should be redirected toward improving learning outcomes.”

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Thu, 04/07/2016 - 9:45am
I can see how giving people the right to move children around at will could disrupt long range planning for any school district. Districts have a pretty good feel for how many children will attend each grade, how many new homes are being built, how many moves into and out of the district are happening, how many teachers and facilities are required. When you give parents the choice to just move their children, the result could be overcrowding in one district, and less than efficient use in another, plus the inability to plan budgets. In an ideal world, teacher and facility quality would be equal throughout all districts. That not being the case, parents may think they have a good reason to move their children. It would be far better to work on the inequalities in teacher and facility quality than to have parents inserting the unknown into the equation.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 9:49am
Do schools of choice cost less? If outcomes are the same, and the cost is lower, that's a strong argument in favor of the change.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 9:56am
In Detroit they add to the cost of education. See below.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:15am
Yeah, that logic is a stretch.
Sun, 04/10/2016 - 11:12am
No stretch. The city already has excess capacity as a result of decades long decreases in population. With Charters performing no better than DPS what are they providing. Instead let's fix DPS. ...
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:25pm
So you are saying this as the state is preparing to bail out DPS to the tune of how many hundred million dollars???
Matt Korolden
Mon, 04/18/2016 - 6:18pm
No, the cost is identical. The "choice school" receives the exact same local, state and federal funding as all other public schools in the general vicinity. There's no savings to the residents of MI. In fact, when the choice is a "virtual charter schoo," those schools receive all of the same funding but have none of the infrastructure as community governed schools. They produce no better and often much worse results.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 9:54am
Excellent article! This is especially important to understand in districts, such as Dettoit, where there already is excess capacity because of a delining population resulting in declining school enrollment. In these districts all that happens is the overall cost of educating a child increases because of the added fixed cost to operate and maintain buildings that are underutilized. For this reason alone charters should not be allowed in Detroit. There may be other reasons for closing Detroit's charters, but this one is obvious. I would think out state voters would be very much in favor of this. ...
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 1:50pm
There is no reason on earth to limit a family's choice of schools or to raise taxes on the rest of the state because some school districts have been so poorly (or corruptly) run that they lose students as soon as any choice at all is available. So family choice among public school districts and charters does not wave a magic wand and fully "fix" the deficiencies of parental neglect or ignorance, poverty, and poorly-run schools between September and April. So what? So some families find that they can't or don't want to continue sending their kids to the first school they chose. Again, so what? After a change of principals, the school that was wonderful for my eldest was an extremely poor fit for his younger brothers. We changed to an in-district school of choice, and changed again (for 5th grade!) a year after that school also had a change of principals. This was in well-to-do, high-scoring Ann Arbor. Not every school will be a good fit for every student or every family. We need more and simpler-to-implement choices for families, not restrictions because Detroit Public Schools have spent the previous 30 years refusing to downsize administration and building count to match the demand for their services.
Sun, 04/10/2016 - 2:31pm
As a teacher, I saw only the negative results of schools of choice. One was the number of students and parents who were running away from unresolved issues that might've been handled more effectively by a good therapist. When students told me they were leaving for another district, I often told them, "Just remember that the same person who sat in a desk here will be sitting in one there." Another result was students who had to wait in the lobby for parents to pick them up after work. A third result was receiving the problems of other school districts. I am aware that there are good reasons for removing a child from one district to another, but I have seen the problems of schools of choice.
John Miller
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 7:39pm
Um, you do realize that this study had nothing whatsoever to do with charter schools, don't you?
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 9:56am
I wonder if this choice is more about safety and a better learning environment? All the brilliant minds in education need to invent a solution rather than looking for something or someone to blame. We are tired of hearing, it's money, it's parents that don't care, and on and on. If the problem can not be addressed by the education profession, the people will revolt and find a solution. This may be charter schools, year round school, regionalized consolidation and real division of classes by knowledge not age. Common core was a failed attempt to standardize what we expect children to know when they leave school. Instead of "getting it", districts and teachers aided in its failure. If the profession doesn't demand research and innovative approaches to improve the system, our country will fall further from world competition.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:03am
I question the findings of the results when you conclude the results are no different when a student moves to a school of choice. How can you measure what a student would achieve in his/her local school versus his/her school of choice? You can't measure how a student would score in a school they did not attend. Many students could fail in the local school for many reasons and meet the average on tests on the school of choice. Perhaps the authors are biased against schools of choice. As a university trustee for many years I observed students that were unsafe and suffered in learning in their local public schools and excelled in a charter school.
Mustafa Mohatarem
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:04am
Who are you going to believe: parents who move their kids or professors who are shills for bad public schools. I vote for the parents.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:24am
For the City of Grand Rapids, schools of choice has allowed families to live in the city -- this had undoubtedly been a good thing for the local government. Practically it has resulted in significant portions of the City no Ionger aligned with GRPS. One can think of recent innovtions such as the Museum school as efforts to recapture some of these families (one might also think of EGR's new IB program as a counter to City High Middle of GRPS -- it goes both ways). While schools of choice continue to facilitate socio-economic stratification it does serve to stabilize city itselfThis points to the other large impact: that schools are not commumnity silos or products,but parts of a larger regional educational infrastructure, an ecology.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:56am
While you claim "While schools of choice continue to facilitate socio-economic stratification it does serve to stabilize city itself", this is certainly NOT true of those cities who are losing students. Our city could no longer afford to run a high school or a middle school because only 30% of our city resident students go to our school. We have cooperative agreements with the next town over to teach our Middle and High school, and now are working to annex formally with that city. What does that do to our city? There is lots of angst about losing our identity and losing "control" It IS difficult, and it is for any community losing students to schools of choice.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:28am
We see similar results in my area on the west side of the state. Moving a student from a "lower scoring" district to a "higher scoring" district is ineffective because the largest influence on a student's performance is her or her economic background (poor vs affluent family), which follows him or her to the new school, and the differences in scores among districts is largely the result of the mix of economic background of their students. I have compared two districts in my area. One district beats the other handily when controlling for the student's economic background, while the other district has higher average test scores due to having many fewer students in poverty. The key to "beating the odds" is not moving kids around but in schools providing appropriate help and expectations for students in poverty. The effects of poverty can be beat, if we face up to the challenge instead of hiding from it.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:39am
There was another study on this subject in Chicago several years ago with somewhat different conclusions. A summary of the conclusions can be seen in the book "Freakonomics". Also there are numerous studies on the benefits of pre-school with lots of different results. I believe it is very difficult to study these kinds of issues and control for family, environmental and other factors. I would argue that choice is always better than no choice. We could probably save lots of $s if there was no choice in food, same with automobiles and almost everything we deal with. But a lack of choice is not going to serve us as individuals. A much better approach is to understand what is leading to the choices and deal with those issues in a positive fashion. The study may not have found great differences but I am guessing that the lack of choice would be a significant negative for Michigan children.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:55am
Well said. Are school districts created to serve the students and their families, or are students and families to serve as hand maidens of the district? What is easier for the district should NOT determine all policy. What is wrong with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?
William Plumpe
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:48am
It does seem logical to conclude that schools of choice harm poor performing districts (like Detroit) by drawing students away who otherwise would attend Detroit schools. The argument that less students means fixed costs are spread over less total students seems valid. I would assume that less students to cover the same or rising fixed costs would mean less money available for other costs. The next step would be to design and administer a test that proved/disproved that theory. Maybe districts who lose students to schools of choice should be held harmless by the State meaning that funds are not lost and fixed costs have the same number of students to allocate costs over. Seems that fairness in choice might be something to explore.
Disgruntled Taxpayer
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:07am
This study is flawed at its core. The researchers are comparing students who transferred to similar students who did not. There is no such latter group. The first group were all compelled, for a variety of reasons, to transfer. The second group were not. You can attempt to control the second group to mimic the demographic, socio-economic status, etc of the first, but you can't mimic the reasons that the first group transferred because: (a) you don't know the reasons; and, (b) the second group didn't transfer. The groups being compared here are simply not similar. You need to compare academic achievement (how to measure that is another matter) of the student who transferred both pre- and post- transfer. Then you can access the impact of their transfer on their academic achievement. I say academic achievement, because unlike John Austin I view education as far more than a number on a standardized test. All this study has done is given talking heads like Austin a platform opportunity to continue to push personal agendas. The study results don't actually support his stance, but any reason to get on a soap box is a good reason for people like Austin. I live in a small community where the public school district has a serious bullying problem that the administration is unwilling to acknowledge and correct. Less than three miles away is a slightly larger community where: the public school district is also slightly larger and has a few more offerings, both academic and non-academic; the public school district does not have a serious bullying problem, at least not by reputation; some of the largest employers in the area are located. Many families choice to go to the neighboring district to avoid the bullying issue, or for convenience (it's only three miles, but it can easily be a 15-20 minute drive depending on certain conditions - if not for location of employment it may be for location of grandparent or other after-school guardian or to be in the same district as their cousins or other relatives), or both. I'm just presenting a couple of examples of why families utilize school of choice that are not directly tied to academic achievement. There are many more. Yes, this does create some uncertainty re: district budgeting and planning, but I believe those headaches are worth the benefits received by the families. Ultimately the public school system is for them: the students, the families, the taxpayers. If school of choice were not available these same families would find other means (homeschooling, moving, forming a charter school, etc) to realize the same result. School of choice is a mean to an end. Taking away the mean will not change the end. People will find another mean. John Austin should walk a few miles in the shoes of some of these families.
John Gorentz
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:16am
In the antebellum south there were apologists for slavery who pointed out that their southern slaves were better off than workers in the industrial north - better housed, better fed, better medical care. And in some cases it was probably true. Doesn't mean slaves didn't want to be free, though, or that chattel slavery wasn't an abomination that needed to be eliminated.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:16am
Throughout these articles, I consistently hear the suggestion that schools aren't trying everything under the sun to reach their students. Having spent over 30 years in the profession, that is the farthest thing from the truth. One thing I've observed over the years is the increased time being spent on test prep and administration. Students take a myriad of assessments (NWEA, SRI, M-Step, etc.). If one looks at the overall calendar, weeks are filled with this type of activity. This year, especially, students are working on the M-Step which is administered completely online. For many students, especially those victims of the digital divide, they are needing time to be brought up to speed so they know how the test works so they can show what they know. In addition, students with special education needs that are given accommodations can take twice as long to complete the tests which cuts into even more instructional time, something that is a huge disadvantage for these kids. Thousands of dollars each year are being drained from school budgets to administer tests that in many ways are poor measures of our students. Unfortunately, testing companies are making big profits by convincing school districts and legislators that these test are valid. Another factor resulting in low performance is absenteeism and family mobility. When children change schools 2,3 sometimes 4 times in a year due to economic reasons their performance is negatively affected. Scores of many students don't have anything to do with the school where they took the test since their education has happened at many institutions in a very haphazard way, unfortunately for the child. Until we work to help all parents understand the importance of daily attendance, work to improve our state's economy so these families don't continue to struggle financially and limit the interruption of precious instructional time with meaningless tests, we will continue to be frustrated by the performance of schools whether public or charter.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 3:50pm
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:49am
I AM NOT A FAN OF SCHOOLS OF CHOICE FOR MANY REASONS, BUT IT IS WRONG TO EQUATE "ACADEMIC BENEFITS" WITH STANDARDIZED - OR ANY - TEST SCORES. They are two entirely different concepts. In addition to that, some children change schools because one might be more demanding than others. It stands to reason that more demands placed on students often means more academic benefits. It is also true that many schools and entire school districts do not put the same emphasis on standardized testing as others, probably because too much time is wasted teaching to the test AND those who run these schools realize the difference between academic benefits and standardized test scores.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:02pm
Linda, It's not the school's decision to put emphasis on standardized tests. That pressure is coming from the state. With MEAP, since scores were in the newspaper and used by realtors, the pressure was on schools to perform well or else. Now, not only are schools rated by tests like M-Step ( the replacement for the MEAP), these scores are also being used to evaluate teachers. No matter what, whether people think some schools teach to the test or not, the reality is as educators we must give some insight into the format of the test to our students. It is not unlike practicing for the SAT and ACT so the format is familiar. We're not grading their test taking skills, right? We are supposed to be looking at what they have learned thus far. It is also a fact, these tests take time and money. Time taken away from quality instruction and money that could be used to enhance labs, to update technology--the list goes on. Parents, educators and our school leaders need to be taking a hard look at the test mill. It's bad for our kids.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:30pm
I agree with all that you say. Sadly, administering standardized tests and the teaching that precedes them has become a necessary evil. Some "wealthy" districts have the luxury of having students well-prepared for these tests without intensive preparation. Not fair to teachers of kids in lower-income areas who are judged on the basis of how their students perform. The tests were designed originally to focus on areas needing further instruction within each grade level in each individual school, but that has never been the case: schools and teachers are instead "ranked" on their students' performance. This is not central to the original topic, schools of choice, but it's an important point regarding our students' education nonetheless.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:52am
John Austin talks out of both sides of his mouth. He is sitting here telling schools to be more accommodating to transgender kids but wants to limit kids a choice of schools that may provide a more supportive environment or more importantly, a more accepting peer group. There is more to school than just academics---isn't this the fight he is fighting today vs. making sure poor kids get educated? Schools of choice can't be all bad--taking a kid from district like Ypsilanti and allowing them to attend Ann Arbor public schools gives them a view of a different peer group where a majority of the kids go to college. What is left in school districts like Ypsilanti is only the difficult to educate kids with parents who do not have the means to send them to Ann Arbor to school. Heaven-forbid, you work on the Ypsilanti schools and get some decent teachers in there and academic programs that fit the needs of these kids. Mr. Austin has been on the State Board of Education for 20 years and about 4 years as President. I am not sure what he has accomplished other than keeping the status quo. Aren't we in the bottom 1/3 of academic performance nationally and our teachers are paid in the top 10%. Thanks John Austin--you are doing a great job!
Lola Johnson
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:54am
There are many reasons for transferring to another school district. I know of some students with really high GPA who transfer to another district because there are better scholarships available. Some because the band is better, or it has a winning cheer-leading team, or it offers a specific foreign language class.. The part of Michigan where I live has no bad or underperforming schools. The graduation rate for my local high school is 95%. Simply switching people around and cutting funding for poor schools does nothing to address the problem of low scores. As for charter schools, there are some good and some horrendous.
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:12pm
School should not be about tests scores or academic achievement. Nor should they be about averages since we all know from elementary school math, or should know, that an average means that half are above and half are below. Average is not a measure, it is a number location statement that can be used in conjunction with other measures to determine the state of a process, not the status of a human being. Compelling an individual to attend a program that serves only to diminish learning and increase stress because the state school funding formula is defective is idiocy of the first order. And that is what all this blather boils down to, how we fund and structure "schools" is a one hundred year old meme that must change if children and their teachers are going to be allowed to learn. Our current system is harming children and society. Teachers developing budgets at the classroom/building level focused on the needs of the individual, not a body that warms a seat to the rhythm of a calendar/content driven system. Starts at birth and continues until structured learning is no longer necessary. Child leads the development of the curriculum and pedagogy, not talking head academic experts.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:46pm
I question the entire premise of this article. Why do we have to make the state the responsible parties for educating anyone's kids? Who has the greatest interest and knowledge in the educational outcome for your kid, you the parent or Bridge readers and/or the Detroit Board of Education? Clearly what we've been doing in many communities isn't working. We're okay allowing people to choose their pre-school or their post HS options, what is different? It's the entrenched interests of local school boards, bureaucracies and teacher unions! - Not the parents or kids!!!
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 1:38pm
From the linked report on the study: "We focused primarily on students who transferred from their home district to another nearby via the SoC system in a given year (rather than on those who had been in the program for several years)." See more at: the researchers found exactly what they should have expected. Unless the kid was totally shut down due to bullying or other problems in his or her previous school, test results aren't going to change dramatically after a single year in a different school system that's run on very similar lines. The effects of peers, programs, and facilities is not usually that strong compared to the effects of parent's education and family income. Any difference that a different school (or school system) will take time to show. There's a reason that new school programs, teachers, and schools themselves are normally evaluated over several years; it takes a lot of exposure for the differences to become clear. I sympathize with school district administrators who have to budget a year in advance under more uncertainty than before. But not nearly enough that I think we should restrict school choices for Michigan families. Somehow the religious, secular private, and charter schools have managed to succeed in an environment of much greater uncertainty. You can too.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:11pm
Some commenters are mixing schools of choice with charter schools. They are not one in the same. Schools of choice are other public districts who open their doors to students from other districts mainly to assist in generating the state dollars for their district. There should be no over crowding in the accepting district as they control the number of students that they accept. As to the premise that there is no discernible difference between students that moved to another district, how can you measure something that didn't occur. How can you determine what the student might have done at the originating district when they weren't there. The results might have been very negative, and the risk of that happening was the reason for the transfer. Shame on Mr. French for foisting on the readers such drivel, what does he do just sit around and make this stuff up.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:20pm
Since schools of choice doesn't improve academic performance, can we 1) retire the anti-education lobby's canard about kids trapped in failing schools. 2) inquire as to the extent to which schools of choice increase segregation in schools
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 3:09pm
Peter, I will offer you another consideration, individual needs. I have a granddaughter who enter school [at five] with food allergies of such a degree that she had to carry an Epipen for immediate response, if it weren't for school of choice and particularly a charter school in a public school district that was willing to work with her mother she would have had to be home schooled. School of choice has become a political catch phase employed to evoke emotions while disregarding the realities/benefits. That school was a public school district administered school that encourage teacher/administration engagement, the school had a diverse student population by any criteria you would want to measure except one the parents made the choice and the extra effort to seek out and get their children in that school. It was everything they were suppose to be and everything anti-choice politician deny they can be. Our granddaughter still carries her Epipen, and what her mother learned/developed working with the staff at that charter school of choice she has since used to develop into practices at the subsequent school her daughter has/is attending. Think what you will, we have two thriving grand-kids who started at that school of choice that are building their experiences there in schools outside of Michigan. The reason for the success of that school of choice was its staff commitment to working with the parents and students, being flexible to accommodate the students and create an environment where they wanted to learn.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:24pm
I'm curious as to just how well this study was done. The article says, "A first-of-its-kind study by education researchers at Michigan State University found that, on average, those students fare no better on state standardized tests than similar students who stay in their home districts." It would be interesting to know the details concealed by the words "on average". Mr. Cowen says, "“If you looked at say the top 50 schools in Michigan and only looked at the effect of schools of choice there, my hunch would be that you see some big positive results", And he goes on to say the reverse would be true of the bottom 50 schools. First of all, why doesn't he know in both cases? Did he check for significant results when transfers took place between districts of markedly different quality? Did Blake Prewitt, superintendent of Ferndale Schools, have anything to say as to whether or not the Detroit students who transferred into his district benefitted from the change? Is it the case that parents don't have enough significant information about school districts' quality?
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:46pm
I agree with Roger. How do you know how a student would have performed without choosing a school that fit him or her better? The authors didn't draw conclusions over the data for good reason – because there weren't any to draw. If the parent and the child is happy with their choice of schools then that should be good enough for the rest of us.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:47pm
It has been many years since we were in a school of choice situation. We had moved from out of state, from a district where high school graduation wasn't a common expectation. Our daughters were getting a good education and were learning. When we moved back to Michigan we move into a district that had two high schools and where our house was situated we had the choice of which high school [one a sophomore the other a senior] they could attend. We gave them the responsibility for choosing, we set up with meetings at each school for them gain an understanding of each school. There was no doubt that the quality of education would be similar, but we wanted to give them some control in our move. They chose one over the other for a couple of reasons. They both chose the same school and it came down to the projected self confidence (of students and teachers) and thus the atmosphere during their visits. It was not about academics, it was about their comfort in each of the schools. After they had both graduated and gone on to college we talked about the choice. One daughter on reflection framed not about academics, but on experience. She said, "We went to school with the kids we went to college with." There choice had been about the atmosphere and their post high school experience confirmed that school isn't just about the 'books' it has to do with the atmosphere, the expectations, the reinforcement in learning. Schools are not just a about a score on a test, it has to do with the comfort with being in the school, it is about being aligned with the other students in expectations or being ostracized because of the personal expectations. Rather than simply ask where the grades will go up or down, ask about the social expectations [are they to achieve academically or will academic success be a burden, are teachers distracted with controlling of the classroom or the hunger for learning by their students, is it the distraction of social challenges or is a drive to expectations post K-12]. We saw school as a whole of learning and culture, about present and future expectations, a place where students can feel confident and being encouraged rather than being doubtful and excluded about learning. Both of our daughters have followed through with that approach and enhanced it by getting more involved than we did. It is both short sighted and ineffective to see only academic scores when talking about schools, school selection, school evaluation, school impact. K-12 schools are a place to learn and grow, a place to do and to build expectations, a place to prepare for life and their future. School is not just about the academics, it is about the whole of the student and how they prepare for their world and the life they want/can have. Start with the student and decide what they need to succeed in making a life they want, then decide on how the school can fulfill that need and measure the schools on those efforts.
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 4:42pm
I moved out of a schools of choice district before my oldest began kindergarten. The reasons were several but one was the fact that I paid extra taxes for the local bond so our schools that were now open to others. I like people to have some skin in the game for their kids too by being residents of the school district. Selfish on my part? Yes. But I also pay for police / fire, libraries, leaf collection, and other local services in our current community that are second to none. They are for residents only and definitely aren't free. FYI Snyder and his "skunk works" with Richard McClellan were going to force districts to take kids from other communities and make everyone schools of choice until the scheme came to light.
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:13pm
There must be some way to have schools of choice and protect those students left behind in poor, minority school districts from the effects. Perhaps part of the money could be shared in the first year. Perhaps teachers from richer districts could work in the poorer districts. Every child deserves a chance no matter where he/she lives or whether his/her parents value education.
Fri, 04/08/2016 - 12:08pm
As both a teacher and parent, I believe the school of choice laws have done a great disservice to our public schools. I teach in a small district servicing low income families near Detroit. Every year since the 90s we have lost kids to neighboring districts. To make up for it our district has opened up to many more school of choice kids coming in from Detroit. In turn, more local families leave. And the cycle continues. As we have lost many more students than we have gained, my district has lost millions and has had to lay off teachers, drastically cut programs, and offer less diverse classes. Thus, the kids most in need lose out yet again. Contrast this to own my kids' school in an upper middle class suburb. This school can afford to not allow school of choice. Every child in the school lives right in our community. School events are community events. It is ranked as one of the top schools in the state. I love the school for my kids but it breaks my heart that no matter how good of a job I do as a teacher, my students will never experience the wonderful education my own kids are receiving. For the sake of all of our kids, we have to do something to right this wrong.
Fri, 04/08/2016 - 10:05pm
Amy, It seems all I hear today and for years has been about the teachers, the schools, the standards, the administrations, the money. I never seem to hear about the students themselves. As a teacher what role/responsibilities have you found the students have in their learn process? I have wonder if in any classroom [teacher, books, material presentation, school,etc. are all the same] some student do really well, others fail, and many are in-between, why do you think there is that difference in performance? I have my views based on my experience/performance [I was in each part of that range, mostly the in-between]; with a rare exception in my K-12 it was me [my desire to learn] and those who were playmates/friends. Does that make sense or is that inconsistent with your observations?
Sat, 04/09/2016 - 5:44am
Good article and worth studying the issue. My first reaction was So What?! Generally, if parent(s) and the student feels more comfortable in a different district, so be it. There are a lot of reasons people choose to leave a district some are good, some are bad. I know personally of a family that moved to Troy and the children had a hard time performing in the Troy School District. So, the children enrolled in Southfield Public Schools. I do agree that school of choice obviously creates budget planning issues for school district. I am a Strong Advocate of combining School Districts in SE Michigan. If a District falls under 6000 students, that district must be consolidated with neighboring districts. Example, Avondale School District with 3500 students should be merged with Troy and Rochester.
Sat, 04/09/2016 - 6:27pm
I have mixed feelings on this. I support public schools, and would not consider sending my kids a charter school as I believe it takes needed money from the public schools. That being said, all three of my kids were school of choice at one point or another. My oldest were school of choice in elementary school to be in a gifted magnet program that wasn't available in our home district. We they aged out of the program, we brought them back to their home district. My youngest is now school of choice in high school. I met with the principal at our home district at the end of 8th grade to discuss what the high school had to offer program wise and the district had eliminated all the programs that my older children had been in and were so focused on test scores and graduation rates, that every thing else had been eliminated. The neighboring district is offering him to many more opportunities, dual enrollment, summer school to work get ahead in his graduation requirements, participation in 2 multi district consortium programs, one for technical education and one for advanced academics. We are happy with our decisions for each of our children. None of them were driven by test scores. I wish the things that brought us to school of choice were available in our home districts and all districts.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 04/10/2016 - 11:56am
The poorer the district the more they tend towards drills and worksheets to bring up test scores. Since this pedagogy doesn't work and the other choices for a broader, deeper education are eliminated, the result is a downward spiral. The kids are the ones who suffer.
Wed, 04/13/2016 - 11:18am
i have worked for a small school district for 41 years.. this year with an enrollment of 250 students k-12, 70% are school of choice. i have come to see this as a problem in this district. the board decided to transport any and all students, regardless of logistics or cost. transportation cost has rocketed up. student time on the bus has gone up. discipline has become much more of a challenge. kids and parent know that they are worth $$$$$, to the district and with districts 8 and 12 miles away and i might add their home district, they play that, we will leave and take our money with us, card all the time. it is a no win. it's become less about education and more about maintain budget and meet payroll. i am not opposed to school of choice if it is used for what it's intent was originally, but in some cases, the intent needs to be reviewed.. if parents and students are moving for true educational reasons, great, but if it's only to work a system to their advantage and i don't mean educational advantage, then it becomes a mess..