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WYPR Radio 88.1

Please listen to 88.1 WYPR Tuesday mornings to hear a variety of important commentaries by Baltimore community leaders including CSFBaltimore executive director, Beth Harbinson, who will discuss educational equality, school choice, and more. Read below, Beth’s second in a series of pieces for WYPR which will air Tuesday, December 16th during the 9am news hour.

Competition is good

Baltimore’s public school system has embraced competition through its support and encouragement of charter schools.

Competition is a good thing but, for the most part, it’s been limited to the playing field or gymnasium, not the classroom or more specifically, the number of occupied desks in a classroom.

Examples of competition in our education landscape include

Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys whose vow is to graduate every boy from high school and ensure that every boy achieves the opportunity to go to college. Southwest Baltimore Charter School’s mission is to empower each student to achieve authentic academic success by harnessing the kindness, cooperation, and trust of faculty, family, and community and support tenets like Differentiated Instruction, Arts Integration and Choice Theory.

In a recent study, Karen Edmark of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics looks at the impact of school choice via a voucher system in Sweden. Overall, the author finds that school choice has had a small, but positive impact, particularly for minority and low-income students.

This study does not explain why disadvantaged students appear to benefit more than their peers but a plausible reason is that many poor Swedish neighborhoods have been plagued with bad schools, and vouchers meant students were no longer forced to attend them. The author finds that after school choice was introduced, disadvantaged students were more likely than other students to attend schools that were private and far from home.

And that is what we see in Baltimore. Children’s Scholarship Fund parents receive tuition assistance to send their children to the K – 8th grade school of their choice. Families can then make choices for their children based on their needs. Children in the same family might attend public, charter or private school. One mom who has a child with learning disabilities has found a way to transport her son to Jemmicy School in Owings Mills – not an easy task.

Still other parents select schools that provide a learning environment that works for their child – one with more structure, perhaps smaller classes, more flexibility with learning styles or a focus on values that a school shares with a family incorporating important lessons in a handshake between home and school.

So what is the downside of encouraging competition in education? It is certainly not financial. The Maryland State Department of Education reports a 22% decrease in private school enrollment over the last 5 years and Education Maryland estimates the additional cost of these students re-entering the Maryland Public Schools to be 402 million dollars a year.

So if you believe that competition fosters innovation and improvement in let’s start to comprehensively and economically encourage it in our state.

Read Beth’s last piece for WYPR, What is School Choice?

*Art by Tim Stump for WYPR 88.1 FM

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