Wednesday, May 5, 2010

AEI and Me

As far as I know, there's not much that the American Enterprise Institute and I agree on. They tend to be on one side of the political spectrum while I tend to be on the other. So as I was reading this morning's New York Times, I found myself a little bit surprised to be agreeing with an op-ed written by Charles Murray of AEI. It's not like he was channeling my innermost thoughts or anything, but I wasn't totally opposed either.

He starts off with the statement that charter schools aren't necessarily going to be better schools than their traditional public school peers and that even if they are, standardized test scores aren't a very good way to measure that anyway. Okay, so far he is just channeling my innermost thoughts.

Then, he gets to the real meat of what he's trying to say, which is that school choice is important just for the sake of having choice. If there are two schools of essentially equal quality, but they take different approaches to learning, there is a value in letting parents select one over another.

I'm not really against that, though his rhapsodizing about the concept is a little annoying. For all his talk about how people just want to be able to choose, a huge number of parents continue to send their kids to their local school even when it's failing and they've been told (because of NCLB) that they have the right to send their children elsewhere. So I don't entirely buy that argument. I also tend to think that schools should be taking a greater role in a community, not less as would happen with a totally decentralized admission system.

But enough quibbling. Where's the agreement? Well, I think that different schools should offer different things and that there's value in letting parents have the option to select what's best for their kids. I don't think that necessarily needs to equate with charter schools or private school vouchers. Nor do I think that we need a completely inflexible approach of sending kids only to the school down the street from where they live. As with everything, there's a balance that needs to be found somewhere in the middle. Finding it is always the challenge.

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