These have not been good weeks for anyone who watches the landscape of public education. In late October, scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released. Reading and math scores in North Carolina, like the rest of the nation, showed little or no progress, despite the investment of about $150 million dollars to boost reading scores in the Tar Heel state. Then earlier this week, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) dumped a second batch of bad news when it released PISA scores that showed, math, reading and science scores among US teenagers have essentially remained flat. Most disturbing is — that despite the investment of billions to improve our scores — 30 nations have scored better than US students in math and the performance gap between top and lowest performing students appears to be widening.
We can debate the value of test scores and their predictive value. Those questions however don’t change the realization that large federal efforts to reverse troubling educational trends have largely failed. Granted, the US has been slipping in these rankings for years. But we’ve also been investing billions to turn things around, and that hasn’t worked either. How people have responded to the news is interesting. In a New York Times interview, David Koretz, an expert on testing and professor of education at Harvard University, said the poor scores on Common Core tests might derive from the fact that states lack a centralized way of training teachers or distributing quality educational materials. Koretz, says districts can choose to do what they want, which can limit the effectiveness of large-scale efforts. I guess the notion of education and local control is not a popular notion.
The truth is, we’ve had decades of failed centralized efforts like No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top and Every Student Succeeds. Billions later nothing seems to work.
Even Koretz seemed to come to the same realization when he said, “it’s really time to rethink the entire drift of policy reform because it just isn’t working.”
Maybe we are at one of those Eureka moments. Large scale efforts are not working. The public has little confidence that the schools will improve any time soon. Maybe it’s time to refocus onto the micro level. One way to do so is to empower parents to choose the best educational option for their child. Students are different. Kids are wired differently and don’t all flourish in the same environment. It’s time our policymakers and schools face that reality. Students have no better champion than a parent. The overwhelming percentage of the public thinks so. In a January 2019 Civitas Poll, 88 percent of respondents chose “parent or local guardian” when asked who is best suited to decide where a child attends school? Allowing parents to choose their child’s school is a proven way to boost the child’s chances for success. Lots of research supports this assertion (see here and here ). While the growing waitlists for charter schools and voucher programs attest to the popularity and benefits of parental choice, our policies don’t.
Choice is a solution that parents want, the public needs and it is a solution whose time has come.