Christina Moves Ahead With 6-12 “Rigor Academy” At Christiana High School

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On Wednesday evening, the Christina Board of Directors voted 5-1 to move forward on a controversial choice program at Christiana High School.  The new honors program, which will begin with 6th graders at Christiana High School, will pull the smarter students from existing Christina middle schools.  Eventually, this honors program with rigorous standards will have students from 6th-12th grade in it.  This will only continue the choice game in Delaware school districts.  Christina was one of the last remaining hold-outs on a program like this, but as a recent commenter wrote, they had no choice but to play the choice game.

Board President Elizabeth Campbell Paige was the only no voter for the program.  Board member John Young was not present for the meeting, but I have no doubt he would have voted no.

Earlier that day, I gave public comment at a meeting for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities committee addressing the increasing divide between the “have” and the “have-not” students in Delaware.  I warned the committee that very soon the divide will be inseparable.  I feel the state is heading in the wrong direction in offering all these different “opportunities” for students.  We all know the most disadvantaged students: the poor, those with disabilities, those who are English Language Learners… they don’t get the same opportunities their regular peers do.

In an inter-district choice program, a student can take a bus to school, but they have to be picked up at the closest bus stop in their feeder pattern to where the choice school is.  This is true across the state.  That makes it very difficult for students whose parents may not have transportation or the means to get their child to that bus-stop.

Choice has become a major joke in this state.  We still have charter schools that are either mostly all white or in Wilmington, many charters that are mostly African-American.  I find it ironic that the advocates in Wilmington for the WEIC redistricting plan think that will solve all the problems.  The plan doesn’t even address the segregation in Delaware, much less Wilmington.  All it will do is dump students from one district with a ton of challenges to another district with the same challenges in many of their schools.  Both districts are steadily losing students to charter schools.

What Delaware needs is a weighted choice system.  With a weighted admission system.  Where every single student can get a chance.  If there is a lottery at a school like Newark Charter School or Charter School of Wilmington, there needs to be a weighted lottery.  This also goes for First State Montessori Academy.  They need to get rid of their specific interest preference.  They need to put their five mile radius preference first.  For a school that is located in the heart of downtown Wilmington, their demographics don’t show it.  Charter schools should represent the areas where they are.  If the General Assembly won’t put something like this through, I have no doubt the courts will one day.  Unless it is for good cause, I don’t think any student should go to a charter school outside of their school district.  There should be an immediate ban on this practice.

No more of these “rigor academies” that purposely leave out students who don’t have a chance.  It is stacking the deck a certain way.  This includes these “honors” programs and even the World Language Immersion programs.  The districts are killing themselves and they don’t even know it yet.  The districts think these programs are these great things, but they aren’t.  It might be for the few who would most likely have the same advantages either way, but not for the students who need more supports and just aren’t getting it.  These are 21st Century discrimination games.  No matter how many ways you cut this deck, students who need the most will continue to be shoved under the table and can’t make the final cut.  What a success story Delaware…

What country had a complete failure with a school choice program?

Here’s a few hints.  It’s in Europe, it’s cold and dark in the winter, and very light in the summer.  They have given America musical exports including ABBA, Ace Of Base, Roxette and The Cardigans.  They did invent Swedish Meatball, but they don’t know why it’s called Swedish massage in Sweden, but they think it’s pretty funny.  What nobody is laughing at in Sweden is their school choice program.

According to an article on Slate.com, Sweden is not very happy with how it’s students did on the Programme for International Assessment (PISA).  The results were released last December, and Sweden was below the international averages in reading comprehension, math, and science.  What contributed to these declining marks?  Many Swedes blame it on the country’s school choice program.

In the early 1990’s, Sweden began a school voucher system.  With this voucher system, the government would issue vouchers to the public to help support new private schools.  As a result, private schools sprang up all over the country.  As the money rolled in, the schools grew like weeds.  The rich began opening schools, and it didn’t seem to matter how good the education was, as long as it was showing a profit.  The students were doing very well, and standardized tests showed Sweden to have one of the best education systems in Europe.  So what went wrong?

It was actually the standardized testing itself.  In the USA, our teachers do not grade the standardized tests.  They are graded by the computer program or outside evaluators.  In Sweden, the teachers grade these tests.  And the Swedish students were doing well.  But what happens when you administer an international test, not graded by Swedish educators, and it shows a significant drop in the country’s educational standing with the rest of the world?

Sweden investigated this matter, and they found the students who attended the voucher schools were undereducated and performed bad on these types of tests.  Those who attended the government schools (public schools), did much better.  It was determined the teachers in the voucher schools were grading the national assessments much easier than those of the government public schools.  The schools wanted to keep the students, and no parent is going to transfer their child out if they are doing well.

Furthermore, since they were private schools, they weren’t backed by the government.  They were financed through private equity firms.  A Danish firm, called Axcel, decided to stop backing the schools in Sweden.  Over 10,000 students found their schools abruptly closed in Sweden.   For a country of only 8 million people, that is a considerable size.  Sweden’s education system prior to the voucher system was very good.  But corporate greed got their hooks in, and the results were horrifying for Sweden.

The voucher schools in Sweden weren’t exactly the same as the charter schools in America.  Most of the charter schools in America are non-profit.  But some similarities can be made.  The rise of the charters in America has occurred at about the same rate as the vouchers in Sweden.  Children at charter schools don’t always perform as well on standardized tests as those in public schools.  Public school advocates do not like the charters because they feel vital resources are drained for their own districts to support the charters.  As well, both the voucher and the charter schools tended to attract “brighter” and “wealthier” students.  In other words, it wasn’t a guarantee anyone could get into a voucher school in Sweden.  But if you had the money, there was a pretty good chance.

Now Sweden views itself as a national embarrassment based on their international standing.  15 years ago they were near the top, and now they are below average.  Scandinavians are a proud lot, and to have a neighbor like Finland getting all the great headlines about their education system while they are below average is humiliating for a country like Sweden.  A lesson can be learned here for Americans, and especially Delawareans, about what can happen when corporate entities push their way into schools.