Monday, August 11, 2014

Schools and Home Rule

Yesterday was about opportunity. Today is about challenge.

While choosing to live in Columbia presents a opportunity to get involved, trends in the Howard County Schools are reducing meaningful involvement. So the same people who reach out to engage may find themselves rebuffed.

As a response to the nationwide preoccupation with standardized test scores, hcpss has focused numerous efforts on "underperforming" schools. What does this mean? Well, while schools with consistently high test scores have a great deal of autonomy, schools with low scores receive much more specific direction from Central Office. They lose what I like to call "Home Rule".

The culmination of this is, of course, the Model Schools Initiative which is scheduled to begin this Fall in five Title One schools. Now, this piece is not a critique of the initiative itself--it contains both good and bad components--but rather an attempt to show how little control these schools have over their own destinies. All of these schools are in Columbia.

The kind of people who are drawn to Columbia have enthusiam, energy, open-mindedness. And they have opinions. If choosing Columbia means an opportunity to get involved in your child's education, then these people are going to want meaningful involvement. They may be willing to look beyond test scores as a definition of school performance, but the lack of Home Rule could very well be a deal breaker.

A friend of mine said this, "I don't hear a lot about parents being eager to send their children to our public schools any more. I do hear a lot about home schooling." This was an eye-opener for me. Among my friends with young children, I do see a growing desire to opt out of the standardized public education system and create something better.

Why? Because these are those enthusiastic, energetic, open-minded people who have opinions. And they want to be a part of their child's education. When parents don't see a meaningful role for themselves in their neighborhood schools, we lose a vital reason for them to want to live in those neighborhoods.

Letting "the people" get involved is a messy process. But it is central to a sense of ownership. If we want to bring more families to Columbia, we need reasons for them to be a part of things--not on the outside, looking in. When parents are cut off from engagement in their child's school, the ones who are able to consider other options will do so: private school or home schooling.

And so we lose those children, who would add to our school communities. And we lose those parents, who have so much to give to our schools. And then our schools, little by little, become the schools of those who have no choice. And then, Columbia--

What do you think?


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