Beit Gamaliel

The House of Gamaliel: The confluence of knowledge and faith.

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Limiting School Choice

It is school choice week and I could not help but to jump in the fray. After attending several school choice celebrations at schools and sitting through several state-level school choice discussions I have come to realize that when it comes to advocating school choice I am not sure we are all on the same side of the fence.

At the core of the choice debate is the academic achievement of poor children. When all the data is collected and all the tests disaggregated, what is clear from choice programs is that choice programs tens to help the poorest and lowest achievers from public schools. What we do know about the typical choice program is that “students who choose the scholarship are among the lowest performers in the public schools they leave behind” and “scholarship students are much poorer than the students remaining in public schools who are on free or reduced-price lunch.”

Choice programs have created several ideas within the schoolhouse framework. It is less common now to see a student taking courses in the morning from their local private school, hustle across town to take a dual-enrollment science at the local community college, and then back to the private school to finish Japanese through the state’s virtual school platform. So what is this student? A private school student? Yes! A college student? Yes! A public school student? Yes! That IS choice.

This new trend in choice is wreaking havoc on traditional athletic leagues that still define a bona fide student as one who takes “x” number of course in the private school. Fortunately, most schools have developed sound policy on what the school considers full-time and part-time for the qualification of scholarships, awards, and athletic participation. However, as these new ideas about choice continue to expand, we may likely need to expand what we believe about our private school programs and determine if they truly are meeting the needs of the students we serve.

One idea gaining traction in some states is that of private school students playing athletics in public schools. For the most part, it is not just a haphazard approach where a child chooses the best team on which to play. It is most often cited as a private school student can play on the public school team if the private school does not offer the sport which the student plays. While an administrator of a high school, I had two siblings who had been raised on fencing as their sport. Despite their letters, emails, phone calls, and conferences, I just could not justify the added expense of the sport for two students. Their only option was to continue in their public school program. While I probably lost a decent basketball player out of the ordeal, it was not the end of the world. It did not affect their academics. It did not disrupt the school day. But it did help define their character and who they were as individuals, and one of them earned a college scholarship because of it!

Most often private schools are against such ideas. While the arguments vary, they are really irrelevant. It strikes at the heart of true and expansive choice. If a school’s existing soccer program will be significantly impacted by students who instead want to play football for the local high school, then I would argue that the private school is not listening to the desires of parents and students! Almost ANY school can start a 6-man football team! When schools, educators, and agencies in the private school field stand against such progressive ideas, they are actually “fixing the fight” and limiting choices for students. In reality, they are not really advocates for “choice” but rather advocates of free government money for their schools.

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