Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Choice, autonomy, and equity in schools

More important than school choice, school autonomy, or even the name of the person running the US Department of Education, is the notion of equity in our schools, writes Andre Perry in a column for the Hechinger Report that describes the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Let’s define a few terms. School autonomy is the extent to which a school leader can make decisions about his or her school, and school choice is the extent to which a parent has the ability to enroll a child in a school of his or her liking. When it comes to school equity, we’re talking about fairness and accessibility of school programs: students at different levels of learning have to be offered the resources they need to succeed.

Over the next year or so, as the Trump administration begins, Voxitatis will develop a utility to allow people to compare schools in the public, public charter, private unaffiliated, and private religious school domains. We will consider developing a grading scheme for school autonomy, school choice, and equity, and we welcome comments on how we might best achieve this ranking, which will be independent of the school systems. We have some ideas that we’ve discussed with a number of people through the years, but now is the time when we really need to make this happen.

If we don’t consider school autonomy, choice, or equity in the grading scheme or scoring rubrics, parents will be forced to assess schools based on information that may be biased by the organizations that run those schools, which can be inaccurately influenced by such things as unfair standardized test scores, by a slick marketing campaign, or even by politics. That is not the best way to decide where to send your child.

Any equity score must account for (see The New Orleans Equity Index):

  1. letter grades from the state, if available (need to put in context)
  2. achievement test scores (tend to be disproportionately important)
  3. graduation rates for different subgroups
  4. percentage of enrolled students who are poor
  5. racial demographics of the student body
  6. how a school caters to special-needs students
  7. how a school supports kids for whom English is not their first language
  8. whether students have to pass a test before being granted admission
  9. requirements for promotion or graduation
  10. racial composition of teachers (see Johns Hopkins study)

In addition, the three facets of education, particularly in secondary schools, as hypothesized by Voxitatis and others, include the fine arts, academic subjects, and athletics. Any consideration of equity in high school must also examine and report on the following:

  • student demographics in various musical organizations
  • nature of musical performances open to the public
  • sports teams available, and student participation
  • art classes offered, teachers who teach them, students enrolled
  • AP courses offered, teachers who teach them, and AP exam success
  • effectiveness of career-ready programs offered

Some parents, however, choose schools based on ideas that have nothing to do with school quality or the quality of the educational programs a school can provide for their children. Among these ideas are convenience, location, and religious preference. As a result, in order to inform parents thoroughly about their school choice decisions, any system should establish a rubric for scoring schools that includes these out-of-school ideas.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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