National School Choice Week: School Choice is Weak in Montgomery County

We’re just out of National School Choice Week, and the Daily Beast is reporting on the issue as a matter of civil rights advocacy.  It’s bringing together civil rights advocates and conservatives, — for example, ultraconservative  Sen. Ted Cruz and ultraliberal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee  —  in joint advocacy for opening up options for parents and students.

School choice, broadly, is about getting a variety of options for educational settings.  Choices include magnet schools, homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, and on-line coursework.   It’s also about getting parents to stop thinking automatically of the neighborhood school as the only place for their children.

But in order to have options available for parents, the forces that impede those options have to be cleared. School bureaucracies and teacher unions (Hello MCPS and MCEA!) fight against the interest of students, in favoring of solidifying their own power over education and school budgets.  The forces in favor of empowering the public school bureaucracy are particularly strong in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County took home a C- on the Brookings Institution’s annual Education Choice and Competition Index, released last month.   Baltimore City Schools and Washington DC Public Schools did relatively well, each earning a B minus score.

Here are some of the grading criteria, and how Montgomery County met them (poorly, or not at all):

Availability of Alternative Schools

“Alternatives to traditional public schools include charters and at least two of the following: magnets, vouchers, affordable private and tax credit scholarships [NO]

 Assignment Mechanism: A measurement of opportunity for students to get into alternative settings.

 – Students are assigned to schools through an application process in which parents express their preferences (rather than through geographical attendance zones)  [NO]

– Students receive a default school assignment based on a geographical attendance zone but parents can easily express their preferences for other schools [NO]

– Assignment to oversubscribed schools that do not engage in preferential admissions maximizes parental preference [NO]

– Assignment to schools out of the students’ geographical attendance zone is difficult, unclear or substantially disadvantages parents [YES]

 The survey looks at processes and results.  It doesn’t examine the degree to which county school administration facilitates school choice.  In Montgomery, the school board actively seeks to block and hinder school choice.  It’s probably only the high average income level which enables wealthier parents to facilitate school choice, leading to MoCo getting a grade as strong as C-.      That really doesn’t reflect how poorly the school system treats lower-income parents, who don’t have the means to overcome the impediments that the board of education and MCPS place in their way.

MoCo will likely do even worse next year, as the only charter school in the county is closing down.

 

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