Suppose that there are children throughout America who are utterly disengaged in their assigned public school each day, but that are absolutely riveted by the sports news on TV or YouTube each night.
Suppose that at least one set of their parents realize their sports nut child is uninterested in school because it targets the instruction and examples to generic children. Dad wonders how much better their son would do if only he was in a classroom (or an online setting) that taught math through sports stats, taught science through sports examples, and taught reading and writing through sports stories. Mom says there are probably a lot of kids like their son.
They wonder, could a sports-stories-themed school be successful? Could it work as a private school or a chartered public school?
Our diverse kids need diverse schools.
Children are very diverse in terms of which instructional approaches and which subject themes will achieve the needed engagement in the learning process. This means that any single approach to education cannot achieve acceptable rates of success as long as children are mostly sorted into schools by attendance zone and into classrooms only by age.
The public school system tries to address student diversity by creating options within large, comprehensive, mall-like campuses, often-impossible differentiated instruction, and sometimes with ability grouping within classrooms. That has created unmanageable school goliaths and student alienation, and stressed teachers, but not improved performance.
Efforts to make this approach to student diversity yield acceptable outcomes will continue, but the evidence is overwhelming in volume and urgency that policymaking needs to pursue the engagement of diverse children in other ways.
One of the roots of the problem is that political processes tend to create uniformity because of its appearance of fairness. So, as institutions under political control, even the best traditional public schools will fail to engage a significant percentage of their students in useful learning.
That sad fact continues to survive frenzied efforts to improve materials, teachers, and a variety of other factors.
To get diverse schools, we need entrepreneurs.
My non-ideological premise is that an alternative to the current public-policy strategy of different options within huge mall-like schools is “school choice” from a menu of diverse schooling options, including choices developed through the entrepreneurial initiative that drives most of our economy.
At present, private schools struggle to exist, and are rare now, because it is very tough to sell schooling when it is available from the government for no additional charge beyond taxes you must pay.
The charter route to specialized schools, such as sports-themed schools, depends on state law (7 states don’t allow chartered public schools, and the feasibility of charter schools varies widely in the other 43 states). And because charter law does not allow tuition co-payments, the viability of an envisioned, innovative school largely depends on whether per pupil costs are below the state’s per charter pupil payment.
An innovative school may need philanthropic support to meet that requirement; if not permanently, then still temporarily, in many cases, to get through the developmental stages when costs can be especially high. Dependence upon donor support severely limits the potential spread of innovative instructional approaches.
Note that specialized schooling such as sports-stories-themed schools must be schools of choice. You cannot bureaucratically assign children to specialized instructional approaches. Many themes or pedagogies that could engage a lot of children would bore or disengage the vast majority.
How could an entrepreneurial private school work?
Suppose that our hypothetical family with their sports-obsessed boy finds teachers talented and passionate about using sports stories to teach general things like the three r’s. Suppose that they live in a state with a Nevada-style Education Savings Account program (a $5100 annual tuition discount) that makes parents’ money available for a school like this. Suppose that they find a great location for the school. And suppose that there is a local entrepreneur willing to take on the risk of leading and funding the project.
With all these factors put together, the new school could fill all its seats with a tuition rate way above the cost of delivering the instruction. The owner-entrepreneur will charge “what the market will bear.”
The school’s resulting profit would be a short-term reward for the entrepreneur’s risk and wisdom. It would also be a magnet for increased investment and competition by other entrepreneurs, who would force the tuition price of sports-stories-themed schooling down to the cost achievable by the most efficient schools.
That process will discover, reinvent, and fill the highest value instructional niches. That combination of idea-driven enterprise, profit-and-loss, and price change is what would determine the public-private mix of diverse schooling options on a “playing field” leveled by tuition tax credits, tuition vouchers, or education savings accounts. Only school choice expansion through policies like these can unleash the entrepreneurial initiative we need to create the diverse schools our kids need.