Our recent conversation about potentially moving KCS headquarters veered off-topic, first to the subject of KCS capital spending, then to the subject of school choice. I found the increasing dissonance among us frustrating, so here’s my second stab at explaining--in its own thread--why I think the Board of Education has to completely rethink its strategy on that last topic, school choice.
Since the time the BoE created its first magnet schools in the early nineties, through the period in which first the L&N STEM school opened then the West High IB program was created, the BoE’s school choice strategy can be characterized as a “come to us” approach, as opposed to a strategy focused on creating school choice at the neighborhood level.
Families weighing their school choice options, then, have necessarily weighed the pluses these magnet schools offer against the minuses entailed in transferring their students to any cross-town school.
The pluses, of course, have been primarily related to curricula that are, to varying degrees, more desirable to them. The minuses, though, have included working cross-town commutes into their busy schedules (or possibly asking their students to lose time daily to longer bus commutes) and, in particular, forfeiting the familiarity and support a neighborhood’s parents and children build with one another over time, in the course of supporting the neighborhood’s schools, as well as its tee ball teams and Scout troops and afterschool programs.
Some parents may attach less weight to that last consideration than others and people who are not parents may even dismiss it out of hand as “provincial,” but it isn’t. In my own family, for example, I reflect on the value I attached to having known for a decade the first two young men my daughter dated on becoming a teen—and I knew their siblings and their parents well, too. Similarly, I reflect on the value I now place on my son having chosen his college roommate in high school, the two boys having been joined at the hip for a decade. I could cite more examples, but suffice to say that many parents take great comfort in the ability of neighborhood schools to foster such close relationships among students and parents alike—to create that “village” it takes to raise a child--especially as their children enter that potentially rocky era, adolescence.
Now, though, comes this local and state and national discourse on school choice of a different sort, introducing charter schools and likely private school vouchers as new options.
We have thoroughly vetted on this blog the minuses these new options entail--especially in terms of the new schools’ lost transparency and lost accountability to parents and taxpayers--but we have failed to acknowledge that these new options are also likely to offer to families a brand of school choice that has not previously been available locally, namely school choice at the neighborhood level.
All that to say this: If and when pending legislation to establish a state charter authorizer and to mandate co-location of charters in school facilities less than 70% occupied should result in, say, that STEM charter school within Karns High we mulled, many families finally offered a school choice of that sort at the neighborhood level would gleefully jump on board.
What, then, are the ramifications of this pending result to the BoE’s longstanding “come to us” strategy for extending school choice?
Given the value so many families place on having desirable neighborhood schools, I think the BoE’s “come to us” magnet school locations will struggle to even maintain, much less grow, student enrollment and I think the BoE will have to hastily abandon that strategy in favor of one better able to compete for students.
And I think we need to discuss it. Can we?
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