The Illinois Policy Institute, in partnership with National School Choice Week, held a reception on Wednesday, January 28 at the Icon Theater, 1011 S. Delano Court in Chicago. The reception was followed, at the same location, by a special screening of “The Ticket”, a film by Bob Bowdon that answers a fundamental question, “What is school choice?”
“The Ticket” takes viewers on a historic whistle stop train tour across the United States, showing different forms of school choice along the way and the children that they serve. In 2009, Bob Bowdon produced “The Cartel” which covers the failures of public education in the United States by focusing on New Jersey, his home state.
Movie maker Bob Bowdon is a longtime broadcast journalist who is executive director of ChoiceMedia.TV, an investigative video website devoted to education reform. Choicemedia.TV has become a national online hub for education news. Pertinent headlines are selected from coast-to-coast to provide real-time analysis of developing stories and to meet with those making waves in the educational field. Bowdon holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and an M.S. in industrial engineering from Stanford University.
What is school choice?
At a time when all across the nation parents are seeking solutions to the struggling education systems available to them, the question, “What is school choice?” is of great importance to parents who are dissatisfied with traditional brick and mortar schools. It’s based on a simple premise: No one educational model can possibly serve every kind of student, so parents and children deserve the freedom to choose the schools that work best for them.
“School choice,” as discussed by movie maker Bob Bowdon and Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, is a label given to a wide array of programs offered to students and their families as alternatives to taxpayer-provided schools to which students are generally assigned by the location of their family residence. The list includes charter schools (including cyber charters), vouchers, educational savings accounts, magnet schools, education savings accounts, home schools, private and parochial schools as well as tax credits or deductions for educational expenses.
The school choice movement has become politically powerful and morally desirable throughout this nation. Although charter schools are often accused of “cherry picking” their student population, this is not true. Most charter schools have an anonymous lottery system, which is actually the reverse of cherry picking. Many parents want their children to attend charter schools because of bad experiences encountered in public schools.
Often heard is that alternative forms of education do not produce good results; however, there are many studies that prove otherwise. Right next to Illinois to the north is Wisconsin, where headquartered in Milwaukee is the home of the nation’s largest and oldest voucher program for low-income families. School Choice Wisconsin also supports charter schools and innovative public-private partnerships. Check School Choice Wisconsin to see the impact of school choice on Wisconsin’s families, communities and schools.
There are always alternative schools that fail, but then parents are free to remove their children from the failing schools to seek more suitable education venues. Just like cars, competition does work and is a positive for brick and mortar schools. As an example, some years ago Japan was producing cars superior to American made cars. It wasn’t long before American car manufacturers met foreign standards so American manufacturers could become competitive in their own market.
These schools, among others, were highlighted in Bob Bowdon’s, film, “The Ticket”, in its whistle stop train tour across America:
Cleveland, Ohio: A Prospective Positive charter schools (Saint Martin). Cleveland has had a voucher program since 1995 where the money follows the child. At Saint Martin in Cleveland, although 86% of the high school aged students that attend are not Catholic, without a voucher program they would be stuck in failing schools. They go to school four days a week, participating in real work experiences one day a week.
Erie, Pa.: A 21st Century Cyber charter school, where online learning takes place. These schools are located in Pennsylvania. In these school settings, mastery of subject matter is important. If students don’t do well in a subject, they can resubmit their work. As such, individualized teaching can happen for each student. Not so in brick and mortar schools where one lesson plan fits all.
Rochester, N.Y.: A private school where kids with special needs are enrolled (Susan B. Anthony Hope Hall). Sister Diane Dolce was the founder. Because the stress level of students is reduced, they look forward to coming to school, perhaps having been bullied when attending public schools. Kids having minor problems are often mixed together with other students in the public schools. They could do much better, but with learning disabilities, in public schools, they were relegated to sit in a corner, so as not to bother the rest of the class. This school accepts no government money, and operates only on tuition and donations.
This question was posed to Bob Bowdon and Ted Dabrowski: How can the mold in Chicago be broken? 21,000 students in the Chicago Public Schools are attending schools that fail to prepare them for life. Additionally, only 25% of students in Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools met state standards, while in Chicago’s lowest-performing high schools only 5% of students do.
Although charter schools do exist in Chicago, most have long waiting lists. The caps on charter schools must be lifted to create an environment where alternative forms of education can thrive. Bowdon suggested writing letters to newspapers, blogging, ad campaigns and messaging through social media to get the message out. When parents band together and show up at school board meetings to demand better educational choices for their children, changes happen.
Illinois Institute Project in Waukegan, IL
The Illinois Policy Institute has taken on a project in Waukegan, IL, which desperately needs school choice. With a population of more than 90,000, Waukegan sits on the shores of Lake Michigan just minutes away from the prosperous communities of Lake Bluff and Lake Forest, yet Waukegan is as different as night and day.
The collapse of manufacturing led to a massive shift in the city’s demographics. As such, minority families have moved in. Hispanics now make up more than half of Waukegan’s total population, representing nearly 75% of students in Waukegan schools. Because of the low performance of Waukegan schools, the Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, has put Waukegan Community Unit School District #60 on its target list of takeover districts and is seeking power to oust elected school boards that failed to meet accreditation standards and replace them with ISBE-picked independent authority.
Ted Dabrowski and his team are knocking on doors in Waukegan to educate residents about the difference charter schools, etc., could make in the education of their children. Their message is being well received.
Shouldn’t private schools, religious schools, charter schools and schools that leverage online learning all be on the table for Waukeganites and in other communities and areas in Illinois with low performing schools?
The Illinois Policy Institute thinks so, and so does Ted Dabrowski.
Watch Bob Bowdon’s 38 minute long “The Ticket” online here.
[This first appeared at Illinois Review]