School choice leaves me with questions

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

At Monday’s county meeting, the commissioners had a brief interview session with candidates for the Central District seat.

One of the questions that came up was whether or not the candidates support school choice. All three men in attendance spoke in favor of this.

Only the Board of Commissioners asked questions in that session, but I really wanted to stand up and throw out a few more questions.

Do you support school choice for any reason, or just because of a perceived academic advantage? Should there be a penalty for making a move for a reason other than classes or educational opportunities? What about the athletic implications of letting people pick and choose where their kids go to school?

The president appointed a woman, Betsy DeVos, to secretary of education, despite her complete lack of teaching experience or a degree in childhood education. DeVos and her four children attended private schools, so she doesn’t have any public school experience as a student or parent of a student.

What she had been known for was as a vocal supporter of school choice, educational vouchers and scholarship tax credits.

For years, parents in this area have complained about their high school athletes having to to compete with charter and parochial schools when it isn’t a level playing field. Yes, Mount Airy High School won three straight state tennis titles. But it could have been five as they lost in the finals and semifinals before and after that streak to private schools. In fact, one year when it got down to the final eight teams in 1A, Mount Airy was the only one of the eight that was a traditional public school.

East Surry swimming has found the same obstacles. A school with less than 600 students has been able to compete well at the state level, but how many gold medals could the boys and girls have accumulated if not for the private schools placing ahead of them?

Three years ago when Cardinal Gibbons moved up from 3A to 4A, the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference voted unanimously not to put the Catholic school on their schedules. All eight schools refused to play Cardinal Gibbons.

Now, however, we’re giving up on trying to control the situation, and we’re switching to an attitude of: If we can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

In 5-10 years, will parents be pulling their star athletes out of public school and make Millennium Charter Academy the dominant sports program in the area? What will that mean to the public schools who are left behind?

The thought that comes to my mind is the difference between varsity and junior varsity. When all the best players are put on the varsity team, the JV squad suffers from a noticeable drop-off in performance. That’s okay if it is a group of freshmen and sophomores who we expect to grow and develop into quality varsity athletes.

But what if that’s not the case? What if the better athletes don’t fill the varsity roster, but rather move to a different school.

I’m talking sports because I used a sports analogy, but the same thing could apply to classroom excellence.

I was a good student at North Surry – taking A.P. classes and making the National Honor Society. What if I and my fellow members of the honor society up and left North Surry for another school?

In such a case, how much would a public school suffer in performance such as final exams and SAT scores? Would having lower results hurt the school — like reduced state funding or fewer academic possibilities?

What would be the impact on the student body from having the best and brightest removed? Would the rest of the kids care as much about class? Would some suffer because the kids who tutored struggling students have left?

If the best students leave a school, what does that do to the teachers? Would they become discouraged that the remaining kids can’t accomplish what the departed ones could? Would teachers start grading on a curve or simplify lectures to try to help students — and would this backfire and cause even worse end-of-year test scores?

Sure, if one’s child is a great athlete or a great student, then school choice sounds like a good deal for you. But most kids aren’t – they are average, and average is okay. What happens to them?

Being a county commissioner means having a responsibility to more than 70,000 residents, including 10,000 kids in public school. Even with school choice, a whole lot of kids aren’t going anywhere, and a commissioner still has an obligation to those left behind.

The next Central District commissioner will have to work with the local public school districts on ways to try to help prevent some of the worst-case scenarios I’ve mentioned.

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.