Something very strange is happening around the country: students are disappearing from America’s public schools.The New York Times reports that many of the country’s largest school districts are rapidly losing students as parents lucky enough to have the choice switch their kids to private and charter schools. In the country’s largest school districts, public school enrollment is down by about 10 percent while charter school enrollment is up by more than 60 percent. This mass flight by newly empowered families is forcing tough choices on school districts:
Because school financing is often allocated on a per-pupil basis, plummeting enrollment can mean fewer teachers will be needed. But it can also affect the depth of a district’s curriculum, jeopardizing programs in foreign languages, music or art. […]Before the Mesa district closed Brimhall Junior High School this year, the school lost teachers in art, music and technology in part because of a declining student head count. That made it harder for the school, which faces competition from many charter schools, to attract students.“Education has gotten to be almost a sales job,” said Susan Chard, who taught seventh grade math at Brimhall for 18 years. “You want to provide reasons for parents to bring their children to your school.”
Although the Times laments the fact that an increasingly competitive education environment is hurting traditional public schools, Via Meadia is more inclined to see this as a positive development. Competition is good. The pressure to compete for students (and their parents) by providing a higher quality education at a lower price is how you light a fire under people to improve the schools.Of course, the bureaucracies want to respond by cutting services rather than administrative bloat and high overhead. Via Meadia suggestion: Try reinventing management as a way of saving money before cutting services. Don’t cut foreign language teachers and art class; cut cumbersome work rules, sweetheart purchase agreements, and thin out the layers of patronage appointees who divert resources away from teaching into paper pushing.