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Archive for May, 2010

School Choice, Or Lack Thereof

Posted by kostub on May 17, 2010

Public schools were designed as the great equalizers of our society
– the place where all children could have access to educational
opportunities to make something of themselves in adulthood.
– Janet Napolitano

We’ve been searching for a pre-school for my daughter and in that process I started to discover more about how the school system works in the US. And the more I learn about it, the stranger I find the system here. Now, if this system actually had better outcomes then I would have tried to make myself like it. But given that the US education system is considerably inferior to the rest of the education systems in the world, I find it surprising that most Americans like and support this system.

Especially given that in India, where I did my schooling , the education system is vastly differently. There are three kinds of schools in India – publicly funded, semi-private (publicly funded but privately run) and private. While this sounds similar to the US public, charter & private schools on the surface, the demographics that these schools cater to are vastly different. Public schools in India are targetted towards poor & low income families. These are for people who would not normally send their children to school and given the vast illiterate population in India these are crucial for educating the masses. But most people (upper & middle class city dwellers) would not send their children to these schools, and the cities are dominated by people educated in private schools. In contrast, most American students are a product of the public school system.

The big differentiating factor is school choice. School choice is extremely important in India. My parents tried really hard to make sure I get into one of the top schools in the city. And it makes a huge difference – most successful people would come from the top few schools in their city. And so while some of your neighbours’ kids may go to the local neigbourhood schools, they are just not likely to be as successful. Schools compete for the attention of parents – regularly advertising their results and test scores. That’s the one thing that I find sorely lacking in the education system in the US. There is complete lack of competition between schools and a choice for parents. While private schools do offer you the choice, they are almost guaranteed to break the bank unless you decide to have only one child or are a C-level executive of a large corporation.

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