Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Parents and Paternalism

According to the Times report, charter schools have not worked quite as designed:
Some advocates concede that the intellectual premise behind school choice — that in a free market for education, parents will remove students from bad schools in favor of good ones — has not proved true.
For example:
Even though the school did worse on the Ohio math and English exams than the average Cleveland public school, families did not flee Arts and Social Sciences Academy. On the contrary, enrollment has doubled in each of the past two years. It is a phenomenon often seen in academically failing charter schools when parents perceive them as having better discipline than district schools.

To some, this argues that "you need government accreditation to drive quality."

As switching schools is taxing on children, caring parents cannot be expected to do so for marginal improvement (eg: from one bad school to a slightly less bad school). On the other hand, it would be surprising if there really was data indicating that, presented the option between failing and succeeding schools, parents would not choose the latter for their children.

The case for Government paternalism, in the article, insinuates just that. While it finds these "almost all poor minority" parents generally unwilling to return children in floundering charter schools to public schools, they increasingly flee, the article implies, better public schools for charter schools. Parents like this cannot be trusted to make educational decisions for their children without oversight.

In truth, the evidence presented by the article is very questionable. For example, if the average Cleveland public school does better on exams than Arts and Social Sciences Academy, there are certainly still plenty of well below average public schools to drive A&S Academy's increasing enrollment.

More fundamentally, the evidence that parents are making improper decisions rests entirely on standardized tests. But, as educators are quick to remind us when applied to public schools -- standardized tests are flawed, if better than nothing, measures. In this case, there is a reasonable alternative measure: The judgement of parents, who have a deep abiding concern, and 360 view of the product, certainly embeds significant information standardized tests cannot capture.

Accusations of racism are too cheaply thrown around by all sides, but one cannot help but wonder if the views+choices of demographically different parents would be so casually disregarded.

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