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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What Romney's education plan is not

News of the latest California school rankings is about as exciting as a San Diego weather report. Student family income continues to be the best predictor of a school's success, and North Countians are reassured that their schools, like Lake Wobegon's kids, are mostly above average.

Each school gets two scores, ranked on a scale from 1 to 10, from the bottom 10 percent of other schools to the top 10  percent. The first compares the school with all other state schools. The second compares schools with similar student characteristics.

Take San Marcos and Mission Hills high schools, for example. Both rank above 90 percent of all California schools, and both rise to the top 10 percent of schools with similar student

characteristics. Forty-five percent of their combined enrollments are from low-income families.
By comparison, just 18 percent of Escondido's Classical Academy High charter school students come from low-income homes. The school's overall 90th percentile rank equals that of the two San Marcos schools, but it falls to the 40th percentile when compared with  schools that have similar student characteristics.

What does a comparison of two traditional public schools with a school of choice suggest about the future of school reform?

Those who favor school choice say competition in an open educational marketplace will lead to better schools. Mitt Romney joined that chorus after competing in primary campaign debates where candidates were cheered for vowing to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.

The title of his plan, "A Chance for Every Child," is a rhetorical retreat from the promise of "No Child Left Behind." It surrenders the responsibility of public schools to help all students succeed. The only "chance" children get under his plan is the opportunity for their parents to go shopping for schools.

Romney pledges to divert the $25 billion in federal funds now going to schools for low-income and special-needs students to go directly to the families of these students to allow them to enroll in any school of their choice, public, private or charter. He calls it "A Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education." But it's designed primarily for those parents who have the knowledge, time and financial ability to find schools and transport their kids to them.

The promise of American education has always been to provide publicly supported, high-quality neighborhood schools for all ---- not a free market of schools of varying quality that survive only on their ability to attract and retain paying customers.

Look to the two San Marcos high schools to see how it's done.

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