Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Wonderful Successes of School Choice

Today's Arizona Republic carries the news on the front page that a new company is planning to "invest" $2.5 Million in creating 25 new charter schools in the Phoenix area. The word "invest" is hardly appropriate – unless you would call my fronting someone $100 for a guaranteed return of $1,000 a year later an "investment." The whole point of crony capitalism is that profiteers and government work together to enrich the already rich without risk.

Now Arizona is the school choice capital of the world: 1) 500 charter schools – soon to be closer to 600 if New Schools for Phoenix has its way, and they will; 2) huge virtual academies run by out-of-state companies like K12 Inc.; 3) open enrollment laws; 4) tuition tax credits subsidizing families sending their kids to religious schools; and 5) a history of active homeschooling. In fact, the number of students whose parents have "chosen" is staggering. There are 1,100,000 students of K-12 school age in Arizona. Of that number, 180,000 attend charter schools, 200,000 have exercised their right to switch school districts under open enrollment laws, and about 80,000 attend private (mostly religious)schools or are homeschooled. That amounts to more than 400,000 "choice students" in Arizona out of a population of a little more than one million for a choice ratio of about 40% plus.

With nearly half of all students enjoying the benefit of choice – with its effects on driving incompetent teachers out of work, shutting down bad schools, stimulating private and public schools to reach higher levels of effort and innovation – the condition of K-12 education in Arizona must be nothing short of fantastic!

But, to hear the state's politicians and business leaders speak of it, Arizona's school systems are terrible. Below average; lagging behind other nations; a threat to the economy of the entire state; not preparing students for college or careers; in need of major reforms; bring on the Common Core. Arizona's education system is the paragon of choice, and yet it is a mess. Somebody needs to get their stories straight.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

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