December 12, 2011
Friday, December 14, 2012
by Frederick Stichnoth
Choice: the Basics described the composition of the Northeast Consortium and the Downcounty Consortium, each from multiple attendance zones and multiple high schools in MCPS’ red zone. Assignments to these schools depend on student choice, conditions that limit choice of non-base area schools, and attractiveness. Any fall off of choice indicates that attractiveness should be restored through system investment. Ideally, students sort themselves by program attractiveness in a way that fulfills the purposes: schools are racially, ethnically, socio-economically diverse, with diversity promoting academic performance.
Like any ideal on paper or in a Board resolution, choice requires ongoing implementation with fidelity.
What if the multiple attendance zones were not diverse? Choice combines residential attendance zones that lack diversity individually and differ among themselves as to makeup. Re-sorting by program attractiveness creates diverse schools from homogeneous neighborhoods. What if the schools teamed in the consortium did not differ among themselves as to makeup? No amount of re-sorting by program attractiveness could produce diverse schools.
What if the conditions limiting choice of non-base area schools were ignored? This would have no effect, so long as sorting was still accomplished effectively by program differentiation and attractiveness. If attractiveness were ineffective, and if managers succumbed to the importuning of parents because “choice is good,” then unfettered choice might preserve neighborhood homogeneity, or even Balkanize students further (especially given unequal programming or buildings or reputation). The conditions limiting non-base area choice are an emergency brake. Choice is a means, not an end.
What if signature programs were not equally enticing? Choice is exercised by families in which 13-year-olds have substantial say. A performing arts program might be more enticing than the coherence and discipline of International Baccalaureate instruction. Such a programmatic mismatch might tilt the scales of choice.
What if the schools were not equally shiny new? Many people, including 13-year-olds, are attracted by contemporary architecture, new appointments, unsullied hallways. A substantial mismatch in the age of the school buildings might tilt the choice.
What if the signature program were not refurbished? Assume that a school were marketing its technology signature, but that at open house 13-year-olds and parents saw aging machines? The luster might dim.
What if budget declines caused program constriction? Budgets depend on school census and budgets fund staff and programs. As census declines, classes are cancelled or multiple class levels double-, triple- or quadruple-up. What if programs constrict in one school but expand in another school, and the two schools compete for students on the basis of programming?
What if the signal to invest were ignored? Choice is a competition among school brands. A few years of under-choice signal that the brand must be restored through investment. If there is a failure to invest, then the brand decline probably will continue, even accelerate, through the indefinite future. Market competition among schools establishes a dynamic and an imperative different from traditional simple neighborhood collection.
What if reputation is impugned? Reputation should rest on the investment of students and teachers in the signature, and other academic and extracurricular, programs. What if investment is questioned due to relatively low test scores? What if a school begins to be seen as racially/ethnically isolated? What if a school is tarred, however unfairly, as dangerous? Choice becomes avoidance; a tipping point is crossed.
Choice is not “set it and forget it,” but management and maintenance.
December 12, 2011
December 12, 2011