Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Too much choice? Ain't no such thing.

Both my family and that of one of my sisters live in Colorado, a veritable wonderland of school choice options. My sister lives in an affluent area with good schools, especially the multiple charter school options. She has homeschooled in the past and utilized a part-time enrollment option at a charter school, and her children now go to a Core Knowledge charter school full-time, and everyone in the family seems very pleased with it. But she was telling me that sometimes she worries that maybe she should be sending her children to a different charter school because that might be a better school. She complained that having "too many choices" made life harder because she didn't know for certain whether she was picking the best choice. I've heard the claim that "too much choice doesn't make people happier" from a local parent, too, after she had taken her child out of the charter school that my children attend part-time.

I energetically proclaim that there is no such thing as "too much choice" when it comes to school options! One might as well complain that life is "harder" because we have the option of shopping at stores besides Kmart or picking our own spouses. Yes, there are opportunity costs to worry about, but freedom to choose the stores and spouses we most prefer easily trumps those.

My husband is happy at his job, but as savvy workers do, he gets emails from professional organizations about job openings in his field. Today he forwarded me one from a smallish city in central Texas. Since we're snow-and-cold-bound (the kids are watching Wild Kratts and weaving today), I spent a couple of hours researching the city in Texas, and the educational options there are appalling for a family like ours (bookish, non-sporty, interested in different cultures and science, etc.).

The public schools there have drug and gang problems and don't seem very focused on academics (which I thought was kind of the point of schools, silly me), and the only charter school in town appears VERY focused on sports with just a teensy mention of academics on their website. There are no part-time enrollment options; unlike nearly half the country, Texas hasn't figured out how to let homeschooled kids attend choir, band, and track at the local public schools for which their parents are paying property taxes--opposition to such participation appears to be based on worries about multiple Tim Tebows "unfairly" competing against the public school jocks. Again, silly me for thinking that schools care about a little thing like actual education when there are sports to worry about. 

The university in town doesn't appear to accept part-time enrollment of high-school aged kids unless they are dual-enrolled full-time high school juniors or seniors. The local community college is geared towards very low level academics (cosmetology?). The private schools and one homeschool co-op are nearly all associated with specific non-inclusive religious views, and from an earlier post you can probably guess how unwilling I would be to put my children in educational environments that construe the Bible to require the rejection of modern scientific findings. There are online charter schools in Texas, but I don't need some bureaucrat's favorite curriculum jammed down my throat for the entire school day; I can choose my own textbooks, thank you. What I need is a moderate amount of classroom enrichment for my kids as a supplement to their personal and academic development, and there seems to be nothing of the kind available in central Texas.

Here in Colorado, we have school choice (i.e., one can "permit" into schools outside of the assigned ones, space allowing, and funds follow the student) and many different kinds of charter schools, including ones that fund college classes for students who are ready for them. The public school districts have to actually try (gasp!) to attract families, so they offer Montessori-style schools, part-time programs for homeschoolers, part-time enrollment at regular schools, etc. And yet somehow we haven't seen an explosion in homeschooled kids destroying the local athletics scene for everyone else. 

Viva la choice! To misquote Trace Adkins' country song, "I Ain't Never Had Too Much Fun,"
Too much choice, what's that mean? It's like too much money, there's no such thing. It's like a girl too pretty, with too much class, Being too lucky, a car too fast. No matter what they say I've done, well, I ain't never had too much choice.

My husband can just ignore that job posting in central Texas.

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