Charter schools are in the news of late a great deal as are the sentiments that “competition needs to be injected into our school systems” and more charter schools are needed to do just that.
It sounds good . . . but is it? Is competition the way to go? It almost sounds heretical to ask such a question in this country, but the problem with competition is it creates winners and losers and typically more of the latter than the former. These people who espouse competition are the same who extol the virtues of “free markets” and “market forces.” But those forces are brutal. If you want to know how brutal, look into the statistics of how many businesses fail each year. Eighty percent of small businesses do not survive for five years.
Is that what we want, a high percent of our schools failing? We already have that, so why would competition improve anything?
The basic rule is “within your ‘in group’ cooperation is the predominant mode; outside of your ‘in group’ competition prevails.” We don’t mind if “they” fail; we do mind if “we” fail.
So, clearly, what is needed is cooperation. And it is sorely needed. There are thousands and thousands of, pick one—how about high schools in this country. Do you know how many of them have the same standards? I can tell you. Zero. Same curriculum? Zero. No two high schools in the U.S. have the same anything: not the same standards, the same curriculum, the same textbooks, etc. This is a guaranteed disaster if what you are looking for is widespread success.
“We just all need to agree to use the same curriculum and standards. Then anyone who claims they can do it better gets a chance to prove it. If they do, everybody has to do it their way.”
The people who insist that the system needs competition are also the same people who insist on “local standards,” which are educational standards made up by the people in each school’s community. And who is responsible for these “local standards?” The local school board, yes, the pride of each community! I think it was Tom Dewey who said the greatest strength of the American educational system is local school boards and the greatest weakness of the American educational system is . . . (wait for it . . .) local school boards. There is no way that local school boards can garner the perspective and expertise to establish valid standards. The best they can do is share their prejudices.
There is a way to combine the best cooperation and competition have to offer. And it is not hard to do, just hard to gather the political will to decide to do it. Once the decision is made to do this, doing it will be like falling off a log.
Here it is: we just all need to agree to use the same curriculum and standards. But, wait a minute, we don’t agree on these. Yes, but that really isn’t a problem. We start somewhere with some set of standards and curriculum. Where you start doesn’t matter as things will change, but the better the start the better the outcome, so it is hoped we will start well. Then anyone who claims they can do it better gets a chance to prove it. If they do, everybody has to do it their way. Who in their right mind would say “We don’t want our kids taught the best way, we want that old fashioned education!” If you think you can teach reading to third graders better than everybody else—prove it. We have colleges and universities that have stellar worldwide reputations for research. Let’s use them. Develop a means to determine which methods lead to better reading (or math, or whatever) and start the competition! Wouldn’t Memphis or Oshkosh be proud to have their name on the third grade reading curriculum? Wouldn’t it be better to have school boards focused on finance and maintenance and personnel issues instead of asking them to determine whether their kids should be taught algebra in the sixth grade or ninth grade?
Competing within the “in group” in which effort is not wasted as it is in bald competition, is a ladder to success. Things can only get better. If one community tests lower than another with the same curriculum and the same materials and the same standards, maybe they need to work a little harder. If data clearly show that the money spent in a community is a large advantage in the education of their children, then we have to ask whether that money is a valid advantage or one that needs to be offset. All kinds of things would become apparent, real issues instead of the fake ones (thank you state school boards of Kansas and Texas), that we could then address . . . and make real progress, instead of “fiddling” with our educational system ad nauseum as it just keeps getting worse and worse.
One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Not far behind is “doing ‘something different’ over and over and getting worse results.”