School districts should regulate school choice, not compete with it

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School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.
School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

Florida’s Duval County School District is losing students to charter schools, and the district’s entrepreneurial superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, is fighting back.

But his efforts to regain lost market share raise an important question: Should districts place maximizing student enrollment over ensuring all children have access to the learning options that best meet their needs?

Most school boards and district superintendents want to maximize district enrollment, but this is not the best way to ensure student success. K-12 students today are incredibly diverse. School districts have never been able to meet the needs of all students, which is why parents are demanding more school choice options and flocking to charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.

The Duval school district is the sixth largest in Florida and 22nd largest in the nation. Its enrollment has dropped from 126,873 in 2003-04 to 119,188 today, while enrollment of charter schools within the district has increased from 609 to 7,795 over the same period. Duval’s private schools now enroll more than 24,000 students.

That Duval parents are choosing non-district schools in increasing numbers suggest these schools are adding value to the community’s K-12 education system. Ideally, we’d expect the community’s top public educator to celebrate this success, but Vitti, like most district superintendents, sees these schools as competitors to be defeated and not assets to be nurtured.

According to Jacksonville’s daily paper, the Times-Union, “Vitti’s fight is two-pronged. The district must determine how to retain students whose parents are thinking of moving to a charter, while also convincing charter-school parents to return to the school district.”

To help recapture lost enrollment, Vitti instructed his principals to call charter school parents and convince them to return to district schools. “The superintendent has decided that principals will be rewarded for successfully bringing back students who were slated to join a charter,” the Times-Union reported. “The reward could be reflected in their evaluation, he said, or by extra pay.”

School districts are the only charter school authorizers in Florida. The Duval district is responsible for reviewing, approving and managing charter school contracts, but may soon begin paying its principals to help put these same charter schools out of business. This conflict of interest is harmful. It undermines public education and the public good.

Having Vitti oversee and regulate what he perceives to be his competition is like asking a Super Bowl team to referee the game while playing it. Despite the team’s best intentions, it will not referee the game as well as referees with no stake in who wins.

School districts can be competitors or regulators. They can’t be both. My vote is for regulators.

School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

The future of public education will include an increasingly diverse set of education providers customizing instruction to meet the unique needs of each child. This expanding pluralism in school choice needs to be well regulated, and school boards, in partnership with state government, are the most logical entity to provide this oversight.

If every current Duval district school was turned into a charter school, the Duval school board and Superintendent Vitti wouldn’t have to worry about beating the competition. Instead, they could put all their energies into ensuring the academic and social needs of each student were being met.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hasn’t the state board of education really taken control of charter school authorization? I mean don’t they routinely authorize schools that districts turn down and since that’s the case in a way they are forcing districts to take an adversarial role.

    Your problem shouldn’t be with Vitti it should be with the state.

    Also your results comment is a little over the top especially since charter schools do worse than public schools and voucher schools don’t do any better despite enormous advantages.

    • Good morning Chris! I still don’t understand your claim about “enormous advantages” of private schools in this state. I thought we came to an agreement about some of the issues a few weeks back since we established the tax-credit program serves Free and Reduced Lunch students only and that these students are typically performing below their counterparts who remain in the public school. We’ve also established, and you’ve agreed, that public schools do in fact kick out and or cherry pick students. We’ve also discussed Figlio’s research that shows the public schools in Florida improved, thanks in part, to the scholarship program.

      That said, the public vs private debate is outdated. Let people pick the best educational opportunities for themselves and their children.

  2. I imagine you and I would have a hard time agreeing today was Wednesday to be honest.

    As for let parents pick sure, but then lets make sure they are informed first. Unfortunately the pro choice crowd seems more interested in misinformation. At the end of the day warts and all, many created by the same people who would profit off their privatization, public schools as a group are heads and shoulders above private schools that take vouchers and charter schools.

  3. To the extent that the schools are underfunded, that Tallahassee has favored privatization and hybridization in both law and money, yes, districts should absolutely fight for the dollars that charters drain off.

    Charter schools don’t make the grade when it comes to our poorest students, and it’s our poorest students and their families to whom the reform movement aggressively markets.

    I have long been an advocate and admirer of standards-based education, and Dr. Vitti is a strong supporter of a uniform set of standards and an aligned, uniform assessment. The Bush-brand “reform” platform has, since its inception, advocated not only the highest standards, but “competition.” I guess you only want “competition” when it’s helping your charter school friends.

  4. I believe there is both an “and” and a “for” missing from the above comment. My editing skills are exactly inversely proportional to my sense of outrage regarding the planned destruction of our public schools.

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