Is it time for the GOP to be Pro-Choice?

Pro Educational Choice, that is……

For some time I’ve been involved in a fight in my local community to get rid of a mathematics curriculum I think is remedial.  The group fighting to bring real math back to our schools has pushed the county school board to dump the remedial program and adopt a more rigorous program.  To be honest, until recently we hadn’t accomplished much.

This summer the results of a county-wide survey of parents and teachers came out, and I began to wonder whether we were pushing for the right thing.  The survey indicated that about 25 – 30% of the parents liked the remedial program and felt that their children were doing well in it, about 25 – 30% hated the program and felt it was leaving their children behind, and the rest didn’t really care either way.

After the survey came out I began to wonder whether it was right for me to demand that the school system get rid of a program when approximately the same percentage of parents loved it and hated it.   I wondered whether those of us working to restore real math to county schools ought to change tactics.

While the group opposed to the remedial math program didn’t agree, I asked the school system to give parents a choice – to provide two different programs, each of which followed a  different approach, and allow parents to choose which one they felt was best for their child.  Each school could determine the best method for providing two different instructional programs  – having teachers teach two different programs in the same classroom,  having students rotate for math,  or pulling students out – whatever approach worked best in their school.  But control over which instructional program each child would follow would rest with the child’s parents.

The idea was well received by the school board, and the we began pushing for choice.  Our school board had a vote on choice a few weeks ago and the motion was defeated with a 4 /4 split.  We believe the motion would have passed 5 /3 or 6 / 2, had it not have been for a last minute counter-motion that pulled two supporters away.  While the defeat had me disappointed,  it also got me thinking.

With the public schools it’s all or nothing.  Your children either follow the program the school system selects or you pull your kids and home school or send them to private school.  But why?

Why does it have to be one way?  Why does it have to be ONLY condoms on cucumbers or fuzzy math?   Every state has minimum standards instructional programs must meet and provide a list of  textbooks, materials, and curricula that meet those standards.   With so many choices available, why can’t schools offer different alternatives and let parents decide which works best for their children?

Take sex ed.  You want your kids taught to put condoms on cucumbers – great.  I prefer something a bit less explicit for my children.  Take earth science.  You want your kids taught that evolution was just a coincidence – great.  I prefer the divine spark. Take math.  You want fuzzy reform math for your children – great.  I prefer something a bit more rigorous for my children.  Take History, Geography, Social Studies, anything – why not offer alternatives and give students and parents a choice?

As long as the program meets state standards, why not?

When I look at the platform the state GOP has regarding public education, much of it seems to hinge on vouchers.  I’d love for vouchers to be authorized, but wonder whether it’ll ever happen.  By making vouchers such an important part of our platform on education we’ve more or less abdicated responsibility for the public schools.

Maybe it’s time for the GOP to change tactics.  Still push for vouchers, but get back into the game and work to reform the public schools at the same time.  Instructional choice might be the reform we’re looking for.

By proving different instructional programs, and allowing parents to choose which one works best for their children, parents get to say what their children are taught, how they’re taught, and with what materials.   The key is that parents are given a choice for their children.

Maybe it’s time for the GOP to be Pro-Choice.