Tuesday, September 23, 2003
The recent controversy surrounding a proposed Montessori charter school has, at its heart, the question of why Steamboat needs school choice. The reasons are:
Many parents need an alternative. More than 70 families with more than 100 children have indicated a serious interest in sending their children to a Montessori charter school. They feel that the existing public elementary schools are not or would not meet their needs.
Strawberry Park and Soda Creek Elementary schools are very good schools and, even in a competitive environment, they will attract a majority of the students. But even in our schools rated "excellent" and "high," more than a few children (about 1 in 6 or about 150 kids) are not proficient. A charter school with a different educational method will be able to help some of these children.
Strawberry Park and Soda Creek are not doing anything wrong. In fact, they are working hard to reach these children. But different children learn differently -- this is not a condemnation, just a fact. No single educational model can fully serve all students. Providing the charter alternative means that more parents will find an environment that works best for their children. As it stands now, there is nowhere for desperate parents to turn.
Competition makes all schools better. Our school district and newspaper take it as a fact that charter schools harm the school districts in which they reside. This is just not the case. With the addition of the Montessori charter school, the existing public elementary schools will have somewhat fewer students to educate and a correspondingly smaller budget.
Studies by school districts conclude that charters hurt districts because fewer children mean less money. Studies by charter school advocates and by independent third parties conclude that charters make the existing public schools better by forcing them to compete, by forcing them to articulate to parents what they do and why they do it, and by making parents more involved because now they have a choice.
Diversity is good. Why are there multiple churches and restaurants in town? Because different people have different values, priorities and needs. The same is true for schools, but our district's entrenched model of consistency stymies the opportunity for choice and hinders the primary goal of education -- to educate all students. For nine months before the submission of our charter application, the Montessori Steering Committee worked with the superintendent and the elementary school principals to make choice available within the existing schools. This was denied primarily because it was not consistent with how they function -- without due consideration to the needs of the children and the wants of the parents.
Private schools are not a choice for most people. The district says we should "be a private school" because they know that private schools are not a choice to the vast majority of parents for financial reasons. The financial requirements of a private school only serve to artificially limit choice. Should families stay in the existing public schools because they are forced to or because they want to?
School choice means giving parents the power and opportunity to select the best educational environment for their children -- and that's the way it should be.