RI Future contributor Te boldly comes out in favor of including cross-district choice in the discussion of how to improve primary and secondary education in Rhode Island…
Reforms like the cross-district choice plan former Providence School Board Member Julia Steiny proposed in a Projo article last week deserve a closer look. The plan would tie funds to students, not districts. Receiving schools would have to accept students so their student body approximated the state’s demographics. (Massachusetts and Vermont already have similar programs in place.)
School choice may be no silver bullet, but hand-wringing about how it will destroy our public schools just isn’t productive. The demand is there: in Providence, the Paul Cuffee Charter School has a 9% acceptance rate — lower than most Ivy League universities. And with a citywide dropout rate above 30%, you don’t have to be a cynic to recognize the system is broken anyway.
One possible model for a public choice plan is the system used by the San Francisco Unified School District since 2001. Lisa Snell
described the program in a Reason Magazine
article published last year…
Imagine a city with authentic public school choice — a place where the location of your home doesn’t determine your child’s school. The first place that comes to mind probably is not San Francisco. But that city boasts one of the most robust school choice systems in the nation….
In San Francisco, [a] weighted student formula gives each school a foundation allocation that covers the cost of a principal’s salary and a clerk’s salary. The rest of each school’s budget is allocated on a per student basis. There is a base amount for the “average student,” with additional money assigned based on individual student characteristics: grade level, English language skills, socioeconomic status, and special education needs. These weights are assigned as a percentage of the base funding. For example, a kindergartner would receive funding 1.33 times the base allocation, while a low-income kindergartner would receive an additional 0.09 percent of the base allocation. In 2005–06 San Francisco’s base allocation was $2,561. Therefore, the kindergartner would be worth $3,406, and the low-income kindergartner would generate an additional $230 for his school….
San Francisco’s system produced significant academic success for the children in the district. Miraloma Elementary…has seen test scores for second-graders in English language improve from 10 percent proficient in 2003 to 47 percent proficient in 2005….Such gains have been made throughout the school district. Every grade level in San Francisco has seen increases in student achievement in math and language arts, and the district is scoring above state averages. (Fifty percent of San Francisco seventh-graders were proficient in language arts in 2005, compared to 37 percent proficiency statewide.) Even high schools, the most intractable of all schools, appear to be improving….
These gains have been made even as students who used to be excluded from standardized tests are increasingly being tested. In the last year of Superintendent Bill Rojas’ administration, 1998–99, only 77 percent of the district’s students in the tested grades were included, with kids who were deemed likely to bring scores down left out whenever possible. In 2003–04, 98 percent of students in the tested grades were included.
Readers prone to experiencing a gag reflex whenever the word “choice” is mentioned in a sentence containing the word “school” should take note of two things…
- San Francisco isn’t exactly known as a bastion of right wing, Milton Freidmanesque free-market philosophy, and
- Though I’m not endorsing public choice specifically for this reason, a couple of other communities that have implemented public choice programs have seen a growth in public school enrollment at the expense of private schools. From Ms. Snell’s article…
In Seattle, the public school district has won back 8 percent of all students from the private schools since implementing the new system. In Edmonton, where it all began, the public schools are so popular that there are no private schools left. Three of the largest private schools voluntarily became public schools and joined the Edmonton district.