Oregon’s School Districts Can’t Keep Up With Demand for Language Immersion
While most states are giving parents a wider range of educational choices, Oregon is going in the opposite direction. From shutting down public school choice in Portland to threatening virtual schools with enrollment freezes, to holding up charter school applications, Oregon’s education policy blocks innovation at every turn. Consequently, the innovative programs that manage to survive in this hostile policy environment can’t meet parents’ demand.
An example in the news is early childhood language immersion. Several traditional districts offer immersion classes, which admit students through a lottery. Some are free; others charge tuition. There are long waiting lists, because many people who are interested don’t win a place in a class.
As you might expect in Oregon, some public school officials think choice is the culprit:
“Whenever you have choices, you have equity issues,” said Jane Stickney, deputy superintendent for West Linn-Wilsonville. “The truth is, some people will have access and some won’t. Not every school, not every kindergartner has access to this.”
When parents have choices, they don’t all do the same thing. But that’s not what makes the status quo inequitable. What’s unfair is the lack of choice for most people. Whoever has the good fortune to win a school lottery has a choice. Whoever can afford private school tuition has a choice. Other parents would like to choose language immersion for their children, but the school system doesn’t offer them any alternatives to their assigned traditional public schools. Charter schools could step in and meet the demand, if Oregon didn’t turn down one charter application after another.
Missouri’s education policy is relatively welcoming to new kinds of schools, but we still need to be vigilant to avoid Oregon’s mistakes. I hope we’ll never have to say, with regard to educational monopolies, “As goes Oregon, so goes Missouri.” (Thanks to David Stokes for informing me of the history behind that paraphrased quote.)