Sol Stern and SLPS
An article in the New York Times about Sol Stern reveals some similarities between his disappointment with parental choice and the St. Louis Public Schools’ attitude toward innovation. Here is the reason for Stern’s change of heart:
Although colleagues long thought they had him pegged, he made an abrupt about-face on vouchers in the most recent issue of City Journal, the [Manhattan Institute]’s magazine, saying there was little evidence they had done much to improve public education across the country. […]
“Milwaukee’s public schools still suffer from low achievement and miserable graduation rates, with test scores flattening in recent years,” Mr. Stern wrote. “Violence and disorder throughout the system are as serious as ever. Most voucher students are still benefiting, true; but no ?Milwaukee Miracle,’ no transformation of the public schools, has taken place.”
And here is the St. Louis Public Schools’ response to a teacher’s effective math program:
"He knows what works for him. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a program that works well for his students. But he doesn’t have the research base yet to implement what he is doing on a larger scale," said William Parker, an assistant superintendent for elementary education.
In each of these cases, a small portion of students is enjoying the success of a new idea parental choice in Milwaukee, and a curriculum in St. Louis. But there’s opposition to expanding these ideas, because they haven’t helped everyone yet. It’s true, we wouldn’t want to implement a policy or a curriculum on a wide scale if there’s no indication it works. But if it’s helped a few students the students who were exposed to it that’s a good reason to expand it to a few more students and see whether the strong results continue.
The only students who will benefit directly from a parental choice program are the students who get to change schools. Caroline Hoxby has shown that competition can improve public schools too, and that’s a welcome side effect, but we can’t throw out every choice program because it hasn’t transformed the public schools yet.
Likewise, if a curriculum works in a classroom of 20 kids, you don’t throw it out because it hasn’t yet been demonstrated to work for an entire district.