It’s Time to Get Out of the Comfort Zone
Recently, the Stanford Education Opportunity Project released a new analysis of education data. The analysis measured the academic growth of students in a single school year. In other words, did a school’s student gain, on average, a full year of learning, more than a year, or less? While we would hope that most schools move their students a full year forward academically in a year, the fact is that many do not. As a result, children fall further and further behind.
How can we prevent this from happening? An analysis of these data yielded an interesting finding—a little competition might just do the trick. And how do we get that competition? We encourage charter schools to open in every type of district, even those with “good” schools that don’t “need” them.
Generally speaking, suburban school districts are believed to be the highest performing and the most protected from competition. When open enrollment was considered in Missouri, suburban districts balked. The fear was that students from low-performing urban districts would try to enroll in their schools while providing no local property tax dollars and depleting their test scores. This is not unique to Missouri. When open enrollment programs, in which students can choose any school in the state, are voluntary for districts, the higher-performing suburban districts often opt out.
But, according to this new analysis, when charter schools open in suburban districts those that have chosen to sit out open enrollment realize that they’re going to need to get in the game. Their students can already leave for a charter school so they might as well start competing with other districts in the area for open enrollment students. Of the six states analyzed, the one with the most competition—Arizona—also had the best growth performance. More importantly, the finding held for low-income students. Seventeen percent more suburban schools achieved more than one year of growth for their low-income students than achieved less than one year of growth. In Ohio, where there are no suburban charter schools and open enrollment is voluntary, the numbers were reversed. More suburban schools achieved less than one year of growth for low-income students than not.
Of course, Missouri has no suburban charter schools or voluntary open enrollment. We have suburban districts such as Columbia 93 that have become complacent and middling to low performing. We should be encouraging high-performing charter schools in these districts to push them out of their comfort zones.