by Robert F. Stockwell
APS schools are competing for students and the competition will increase as additional alternatives become available. Whether it is private schools, in-home schools or charter schools, parents that demand higher quality and more say in how their children are being educated will vote with their feet and choose the alternatives. The enrollment statistics show it and new legislation could accellerate it.
Up to now, parental choices have been limited by financial considerations (cost of private school), time (not enough to teach children at home) or public school systems that deny school charters (often in an effort to maintain control). However, with the public schools so often failing, parents are demanding more involvement and greater choice regarding where they send their children to school. Further, the ability to access high quality courses through the use of technology is placing ever greater pressure on public school systems that continue to see declining enrollment. In addition, as access to financial resources improves (vouchers, tax credits, etc.) parents will continue voting with their feet and leave the centralized and bureaucratic public schools in greater numbers.
As happens in any market that is controlled by an entrenched monopoly, the public schools are fighting tooth and nail to maintain control and the status quo. At the same time, if they rely on old answers that have proven not to work, they inevitably will lose the fight. And each time the public school system places its own priorities – entrenched bureaucracy and centralized control – over the priority of the student’s educational outcomes, the more parents will be angry and empowered. An example is of this is the new State Charter School legislation that was passed simply because the entrenched monopoly refused to issue a charter that was fully warranted by the facts. This is the new reality facing public schools in Georgia – approve valid charter applications and maintain some oversight over the charter schools in the district or lose the oversight to a State Board. Will this be the fate of the Drew Charter High School application?
APS continues to cite problems that would be caused by approving new charter schools (i.e. – competition), however the problems they raise tend to be of their own making or in direct contradiction to their espoused beliefs. Some examples are:
Overcapacity is cited as an issue – however, the overcapacity problem was exacerbated by the Administration four years ago with the addition of three new high schools.
During the last four years, APS has spent $40 million on “reform” initiatives to create smaller learning communities – but when faced with actually allowing the creation of a real smaller learning community (the 600 student Drew Charter High School) it balks and says it wants to spend $40 million renovating Jackson High School with a capacity of 1508 students.
The Administration says it wants more parent involvement, but spends a paltry sum on programs to enhance it. Worse yet, when the Drew parents show up in mass with facts that show the positive impact of their involvement – the Board of Education “stiff-arms” them with excuses.
What will the public school system have to do in this new competitive environment? As is the case in any market in which competition is introduced, they will have to improve their product or ultimately wither and die as consumers move to other alternatives. Either the public schools embrace competition and use it to spur significant improvements or they will continue to oversee a declining enrollment and failed results. Based on the attempted “reforms” to date, APS knows the answer – smaller schools with greater parent participation and control. However, each “reform” program APS has tried has failed. Why? The “reforms” have ultimately relied on centralized management and control versus decentralized responsibility for educational outcomes.
The challenges facing APS are massive. The Board of Education and Superintendent Davis have what may appear to be a difficult choice:
Embrace competition and seek new ways to deliver a great education to the students; or
Attempt to preserve a monopoly that is doomed to fail the students, parents and taxpayers.
They cannot have both. The Drew Charter High School vote this coming Monday should be a strong indication of their priorities and the direction they will take. Will it be the students who benefit or the entrenched monopoly exercising bureaucratic control?