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Bright Ideas for Change        < Previous        Next >

 

'Undistricting' Creates Top Quality

 

Q. Organizing schools into districts seems like a smart management policy that dates back many, many years. But have we outgrown that model, in this era of computerization that should be replacing bureaucracy? Would we get better educational quality if we shed the district bureaucracy? Should we do away with school districts as a management structure, in order to get out from under the massive nonteaching school bureaucracy and all its related counter-productive regulations and burdensome non-classroom costs?

 

In rankings of the top high schools in the United States, a growing portion of the list are "undistricted" schools - schools that aren't limited to drawing students only from within a defined geographical area, and don't have a lot of bureaucracy and regulation impeding school operations from the district level, as most public high schools do.

 

Consider the State of Arizona, which has less than 2% of the nation's K-12 students, but recently placed three schools on the "Best 100 Public High Schools" listing by U.S. News and World Report. Those three high schools are all "undistricted" schools:

 

         University High School in Tucson, a magnet school

 

         Basis Tucson, a charter school

 

         Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, a charter school

 

None of the state's traditional public high schools made the list. And Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute thinks that's important to note.

 

Ladner is an advocate of school choice, and he points to the honor given to those three nontraditional high schools as a prime example of the quality that separating students from a district-level bureaucracy, with all its imposed rules and excess costs, can create.

 

Ladner also pointed out that, based on standardized test scores, nine of the top 10 public schools in Maricopa County, Phoenix, are charter schools.

 

While neither charter schools nor traditional public schools can use admission tests or other admission criteria for enrolling students, the fact that the teachers in charter schools have more freedom, and students can choose to go there, are key factors for why charter schools excel over traditional public schools, where you are forced to go by district rules.

 

Ladner writes: "Here's a little food for thought: with charters and magnets doing so well, what is the point of having school district administrative bureaucracies at all? They're not helping produce top 100 national or top 10 local schools and they divert quite a bit of funding away from the classroom. Maybe all the talk about "redistricting" schools should really be talk about "un-districting." 

 

For more about school choice and Ladner's ideas, see www.goldwaterinstitute.org

 

Homework: One of the best high schools in the country is Lowell High School in San Francisco. It is "undistracted" in the sense that students don't have to live within any geographical confines to be admitted. The richly diverse student body all are selected for their high standardized test scores, grades in middle school, a writing sample, and diverse extracurricular activities. Lowell has produced an incredible number of leaders in all walks of life, in all skin colors and creeds, from all income levels. It appears that the fact that you apply to get in is this school's competitive edge. You don't HAVE to go there; you WANT to go there. High schools that operate solely within a school district don't have that aspect. For more about Lowell, see:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowell_High_School_(San_Francisco)

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com

Bright Ideas For Change 03 2009

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