Close Only Counts in Horseshoes…and School Choice?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 14th, 2009

Why do parents enroll children in underperforming schools when there appear to be better choices nearby?   For some, transportation may be a dealbreaker,  according to a new survey by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education posted by EdWeek’s Debra Viadero:

The results suggest that transportation is especially challenging for low-income families, 45 percent of whom do not own cars, or who own vehicles that are unreliable. According to the survey, one third of those families said they did not enroll their child in the school they preferred due to transportation difficulties.

Dan Willingham recently unpacked one of the paradoxes surrounding school choice over at Britannica Blog with his patented cog sci spin.  In particular, he takes issue with the argument that choice will improve the overall quality of education, since parents would not knowingly send their kids to “bad” schools.   Yet they do it all the time.   “Why should we expect people to make rational decisions about their child’s schooling,” Willingham notes, “when they don’t make rational decisions in other complex arenas?”

I can imagine an advocate saying ‘But the real point is that it’s the parent’s choice. If they want to send their kid to a mediocre school because it’s close to the home, that’s their business.’ Fair enough, but that is a different argument. We are no longer debating whether choice will improve schools but about philosophy of governance. What happens if parents do not make sensible educational choices for their children?  We don’t let parents choose not to educate their children—there are truancy laws. Should society intervene if parents send their child to a school that the parents ought to know is terrible? And are we, as a society, going to allow people to make poor choices for which there is a collective cost? Perhaps this is the educational equivalent of letting people choose to drive without wearing a seatbelt.

When I taught in the South Bronx, I routinely (and quietly) encouraged dozens of families to enter their children in the lottery for the KIPP school less than a half a mile away, but few ever did.  Meanwhile, the massive and dangerous middle school across the street was the top choice of students leaving my school.   Granted, there were three basic flavors of middle school in the neighborhood : bad, worse, and abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here   Still, to Willingham’s point, a disproportionate number made what I perceived to be the worst possible choice.  The one thing it had going for it was proximity.

Update: Jay Greene wanders into the fray at his blog and in the comments below.

Is Pittsburgh Hard to Spell? Definately.

by Robert Pondiscio
July 14th, 2009

For 80 years, a beacon atop the Grant Building in downtown Pittsburgh has flashed out the word “Pittsburgh” in Morse code.  At least it was supposed to.  No one knows for how long it’s been happening, but a sharp-eyed city resident waiting for a 4th of July fireworks show noticed the dots and dashes actually spell out P-I-T-E-T-S-B-K-R-R-H

“I was looking at it, and I saw the letter ‘K,’ which is dash-dot-dash,” Tom Stepleton tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I remembered ‘K’ because my sister’s name starts with ‘K.’ And I knew that wasn’t supposed to be there.”   He took a video of the dotty message and dashed it off to YouTube.

Meanwhile, a survey reveals that “definitely” is the most misspelled word in the English language.  A significant number of people insist on spelling it “definately,” the UK’s Daily Record notes.   The other most commonly misspelled words include sacrilegious, indict, broccoli, and prejudice.  The poll also finds that “57 percent judge other people on their spelling, with 42 per cent admitting they believe people who can’t spell are ‘thick.’”

Personally, I always need to check “embarrass” and ”cemetery” and for some reason, “judgment” never looks right to me, no matter how many times I’ve written it.