The attention should be on what we need to do for those students right now. There are two kinds of schools: those that aim to get better all the time and those that aim to get through the year. Too many of them aim to get through the year.
In theory, the answer is to fix the short-term focused schools and make them true participants in their communities. In reality, however, that takes time. If there is one thing students cannot waste, it is their time in school.
Schools like P.S. 106 can turn it around. We’ve seen schools with the right leadership rebound. Movies have been made about them, but they do not rebound in 90 minutes like they do on screen.
Ideas to combat troubled schools are controversial. They get labeled too liberal or too conservative, and that is too bad because it keeps most reform off the table. Maybe a school voucher program is not the best idea in all scenarios, but in a case like this would it be worth exploring?
The idea of using vouchers is usually criticized as a way to make bad public schools worse while propping up private schools. Well, what if some of these public schools are already in bad shape? Could we use a temporary voucher program for a limited number of students who attend the poorest performing schools? What would be the risk? People may raise constitutional issues, but a similar pilot program was used in Washington, D.C.
There is nothing more depressing in education than seeing a student trying to learn and being surrounded by disruptive students who commandeer the classroom. In troubled schools, there are always some students that want to learn, and letting them down is our fault.
A major part of developing good students is having them around other good students. This is why a bad school is so dangerous. We need a system that rescues the students are making the effort, because their time is too valuable. If they are in a school that has no long-term vision, that only looks to finish another year, we need to get them to a better place.
A plan like this could be temporary. If we really think we can fix some of the troubled schools, we should be willing to allow a voucher plan into the system for the time being. In the meantime, communities and educators can revamp the failing schools.
This is about students who try, and unfortunately that is not all of them. Getting into a charter or private school requires some effort to qualify, and that would still apply in any assistance program. We need to give good students in bad schools a chance.
If students do not try, it’s on them. If they try and the school we’ve given them fails, the responsibility is with us.