I’m Pro-Choice: Families Should Choose (not Schools, Districts, or the State)

Choice is a popular buzz word these days in educational policy. It seems more and more that the word is used when choices in education are actually being reduced— when in fact someone else is actually doing the choosing besides families. In the case of school choice, it is exactly that, schools choose. How so you ask? Well, in the case of charters check out Breaking News: Kevin Welner’s Charter School Dirty Dozen. For the case of vouchers check out Impact on Access and Segregation: Are Vouchers a Panacea or Problematic? Pt. II

I have argued the same issue is at stake in the debate over the courses that are required by a states in graduation plans— therefore prioritized and rationed by districts in environments of education spending cuts.  I recently testified on the rationing of education in the debate about curriculum and college readiness at the Texas State Board of Education meeting on the issue. See the post Invited Testimony: Same Shift, Different Day for Latinos and African Americans. This past week, the Daily Texan published a story on the college readiness and curriculum debate. Here are excerpts from the story.

The Texas State Board of Education’s vote to eliminate algebra II as a public high school graduation requirement will decrease the student body’s diversity and college readiness, according to associate professor of education Julian Heilig.

The state’s minimum foundation program dictates the 22 credits a student must complete to graduate. The program will require three math credits instead of four after the changes go into effect for students entering high school in fall 2014.

Heilig said African-American and Latino students disproportionately receive high school diplomas that have lower degree requirements. Heilig said measures such as House Bill 5, the bill that allowed for the elimination of the algebra II requirement, will have a disparate effect on the students.

“Our state is changing, and we really want our University to represent the state,” Heilig said. “[If we] don’t have students that are college-ready or [they] don’t have the right credentials from high school, then what it will do is impact the diversity of UT over the long term.”

Heilig said in order to be competitive applicants, students must have four years of math, science and English.

“If you don’t start early on the pathway to college, then by the time a student is a junior and decides he wants to go to college, it’s too late,” Heilig said.

Heilig said after compulsory education was established in Texas, the state created vocational tracks for students who were considered incapable of receiving college degrees. He said the bill eliminating algebra II as a requirement is reminiscent of this historical narrative.

“It’s been reframed as ‘students need an option,’” Heilig said. “It’s not actually students who are making these choices — it’s the state and those districts.”


As we already know from the research literature, students of color have long been underrepresented in AP courses. They are rationed and only certain students receive access. We have the same issue with Gifted and Talented education. Even though students can theoretically “choose” to enroll in AP and Gifted and Talented, they cannot actually choose if they are not offered in their high school, are subject to competitive entry, or if they are open enrollment but oversubscribed. So if we ration algebra II (or other courses required by most college and universities) in the same manner, we will effectively ration higher education because it will create gushers in the educational pipeline into higher education— specifically for students of color— as we have already observed in the rationing of AP courses and Gifted and Talented programs. Same shift, different day.

See also Reframing the Refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights Issue and Vouchers and Charter Schools.

p.s. Opting out of state-mandated high-stakes testing is also “choice” and should be available to every parent if they so choose without fear of retribution and harassment from schools, districts, or the state. Parents shouldn’t have to send their student to a private school to receive this “choice.”

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