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It’s Not What You Think: “The End of School Choice” Means Something Better

I’m not really sure how I should feel. Seeing a new opinion article titled “The end of ‘school choice’” at first made me tense up inside. Upon closer inspection, I was relieved to find it wasn’t coming from the likes of someone who believes that choice backers deserve “a special place in hell.”

No, quite the contrary. The headline was actually a clever device to get us to read some interesting thoughts by Doug Tuthill, posted at redefinED (H/T Matt Ladner):

The annual American Federation for Children conference is one of the country’s largest gatherings of school choice advocates. So it was notable, during the most recent conference in Orlando, that speakers regularly used the terms “parental choice” and “educational choice,” but not “school choice.”

This shift in semantics reflects an emerging trend that’s a game changer – the expansion of choice in publicly-funded education is increasingly including learning options beyond schools.

A slow realization of an important paradigm shift is overtaking education as we know it. A lot of interrelated and overlapping terms apply: The education playlist. Course-level funding. Personalized learning (like I talked about yesterday). Education Savings Accounts. Or the name that Florida’s new program goes by, and Tuthill explains, Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts.

Of course, this type of program — now available to some students in two states (Arizona is the original) — carries clear, positive implications for empowerment and access. With a special state-funded debit card, families can customize a child’s educational experience beyond the four walls of a traditional school. The opportunities this approach can provide are great, and truly liberating for some, but it also can create a conundrum or two for those who are in the business of crafting or implementing education policy.

Tuthill points out one that comes to mind. The issue of a one-size-fits-all state school accountability system. How do you assign and share accountability measures for a student who is taking academic instruction from multiple different providers? Then the author takes it one step further:

Our current testing debate also feels dated.

Technology is transforming standardized testing from an annual event to an ongoing process, one that continuously informs teaching and learning while still letting parents know how their child is performing compared to similar-aged children. When standardized testing is fully merged with daily teaching and learning, the debate about how much is appropriate will no longer be relevant.

Unfortunately for us, Tuthill correctly observes that development may be more than a decade away. But that’s no help for little old me right now. The clunky transition to another well-intentioned but imperfect assessment system has created enough friction that we have to buckle up for the bumpy ride the issue is bound to bring to the 2015 legislative session.

Sometimes I’m left to wonder: When will the future actually get here?