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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Young people aren't "cream" to be skimmed

Young people are not "cream" that might be "skimmed" off the top of whatever grouping you're comparing to fresh milk. Nor are they "just" milk. (Besides, that stuff does a body good, right?)

Young people are human beings with equal inherent worth. And we adults have an obligation to help each one thrive. Each states has made a constitutional commitment to provide them with learning opportunities to help them achieve their potential.

One of the arguments raised in opposition to new ways of publicly funding the education of our young people is that providing choices to parents will "rob" the schools those families do not choose for their children of "the best students." In other words, if one school attracts the best students (the cream), it's not fair to the schools left with students who aren't "the best" (the milk). According to the proponents of these arguments, creating new choices for parents to ensure their children receive the education promised by states is unfair and will "leave" the schools those families don't choose with "the hardest to educate" young people.

Young people aren't what make schools good or bad. But it's hard not to notice the undercurrent suggesting they are. I was pleased that another research study confirmed that chartered public schools do not "cream skim" students from traditional public schools. But I was disappointed to see this report continue the trend of many discussions on school quality label schools as "good" if the kids in it are "good," "easy to educate," or "less needy" than the students in the "bad" schools.

A quick sidebar: These arguments seem to only be raised when choices are provided that don't require parents to have the money to move or purchase a private school education. I have not heard these same arguments raised when nearby public school districts open new schools or do things that might attract "better" kids. I haven't heard this argument when new private schools open or expand. And I certainly don't hear it when parents choose to homeschool their children. I wonder if this isn't because those arguing against increasing parental choice in publicly-funded education believe that it's OK for some families to exercise all the choice they want to for their children's education, but it not OK for those people (poor, Black, or Brown) to be given the ability to choose what they see is the best publicly-funded educational setting for their children.

The idea that the children who show up, as they are, determine the quality of a school makes me angry. Years ago, Superintendent Angus McBeath described a school in Edmonton (quoted in UCLA Professor William Ouchi's book, Making Schools Work) The school, McBeath said, "had a terrible reputation at one point and it was kind of a grunt school in an unattractive part of Edmonton. It was not a school where people sent their kids if they were doctors, lawyers, or upper professional people." He went on to say,

The school decided to rebrand itself, but not by tossing out its traditional clientele. They made a decision to say, These are our clientele—we celebrate and respect them and let us make sure that we provide them the very best education. In most education systems, people like good kids—the more middle class the better. Our belief is . . . parents send us the best kids they have—they don’t keep the good ones at home! So these are the kids that we have. So let’s not blame the kids any more.

Young people aren't test scores, but we need those test scores. In my mind, the great value of the No Child Left Behind Act was requiring all students to take the same test on a regular basis, and for student performance to be separated by race, income, and eligibility for special education. Otherwise, schools and districts could get away with a good reputation while not helping all their students be ready for what's next in life.

So, it's important to measure student performance. But, that's not a measure of the worth of a child or a judgment about the kind of life they should be allowed to have.

Measuring each student's overall competency and growth is an essential way for adults, including professionals paid to educate young people, to gauge whether they're helping each student prepare for a relatively happy, healthy life, or standing by while they lurch toward a life of constant struggle.

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