Sunday, January 01, 2006

What the education judge didn't say

In case you've been out of the state for the holidays, Circuit Judge Thomas W. Cooper Jr. issued a ruling last week in a 13 year old law suit about whether South Carolina provides minimally adequate education to children in impoverished districts.

"We are ecstatic. We won," said Laura Callaway Hart, one of the districts' attorneys. Well, what the plaintiffs were looking for was massive amounts of new money - like billions of dollars - thrown at the problem. That's not what they got.

The judge didn't say the solution was brick and mortar. He ruled that facilities in the poor counties were adequate. The judge didn't say the solution is throwing more money at the problem. "Although the plaintiff districts have received 'substantial amounts of monies' in response to poor academic performance of certain schools, the funds have been 'largely ineffective because they come too late,' Cooper wrote."

The judge did rule that, "Children in eight of the state's poorest school districts aren't receiving the opportunity for a minimally adequate education because of the state's failure to adequately fund early childhood intervention programs." Many legislators have already gotten there, with proposals in this upcoming session to extend 4 year old kindergarten. This ruling gives those proposals more momentum.

The question we must address is how education is delivered. If we continue to deliver it the way we have traditionally delivered it, we can't expect substantially different results. The problems of educating children in poverty are difficult, multi-faceted and sometimes seemingly intractable.

Usually the debate about school choice is framed from the demand side - giving parents more choices. Too often, the teachers come off as the bad guys, making teachers, and even parents that like their children's teachers, very defensive.

School choice gives the best and brightest teachers more options too. A prior post was about two educational entrepreneurs, Tammi Sutton and Caleb Dolan, who targeted an area "where poverty rates are high and expectations are often low" and "decided to build their own high school. Sutton and Dolan weren't trained in a traditional college of education and don't spend much time worrying about the way schools are supposed to operate." Their kids have among the best test scores in North Carolina.

We need an education system that encourages and supports the passionate and creative Tammis and Calebs to develop innvative solutions to a broad array of problems. Educational entrepreneurs like them really are our last best hope.

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