Where did they go?

Most have gone to choice schools. Where are these choice schools? Some 10% percent of school-aged students are not in the neighborhood school because they are in private-religious, private-secular, or home-based schools. These students may not all be above average in academic ability, but they often have at least three of the elephant’s legs: ability to focus, motivation, and self-control.

Another 8% of all students are not in this school because they are in private voucher-supported schools or charter schools. A voucher program gives vouchers to parents to use to pay for private school tuition. Charter schools are part of the public system, but are operated privately. (A charter school is much like one large voucher, but that voucher goes to an entire school rather than to individual parents). Attendance at these private-voucher and private-public charter schools requires vigilance on the part of parents. They need to know which schools are available and need to be motivated to find the best programs for their children. This leads to selected students and typically more cooperative parents.

Public schools oppose these programs and even oppose their own public charter schools, because they suspect these programs cream off the “best” parents and kids. (Local public schools are less opposed to learning-disabled students finding their way to charters or private schools, however, because these children are poor test-takers who lower public school test scores).

Another 7% are not in their neighborhood school because they are in public, magnet schools. These schools were developed in part to compete with private schools and offer specialty programs such as the arts and technology. Included in this group are the highly structured, so-called fundamental schools that require parents to sign a contract agreeing to a standard dress uniform and compliance with explicit rules.

General open enrollment that includes Advanced International Certificates (AICE), virtual instruction, International Baccalaureate, Lab Schools, etc., make up another 13%.

Meanwhile, back in the elephant jungle, something extraordinary is happening. We should have as many as 80% of the remaining neighborhood school students in career and technical training. What do you think that percentage is in the state of Florida? Five percent! Yep, this group makes up only 161,000 students (State of Florida figures) or less than 5% of the 3.5 million students in Florida in 2012-13!

While some public schools and teachers’ unions decry voucher and charter schools, their own increasing use of fundamental schools and magnet schools could be subject to the same criticism. Similar to a magnet, these schools attract high achieving kids and families from higher socio-economic levels, leaving the “regular,” neighborhood school with fewer academically capable kids and fewer motivated parents. So this is the creaming I constantly refer to. Coffee, anyone?

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