Sunday, September 30, 2012

Open Enrollment in Howard County Schools

(So I had this post in the tank from last week and held it pending Bob B's permission to use his e-mail in a post.  Jane and I are having an awesome time [very weird to still call my wife "Jane" after so many of you know her real name, but tradition is tradition].  I miss you all and wish I could have been at the Main Street Music Festival.  Travel makes us better educated people and this trip, for all of its indulgences, has been nothing if not educational.)

Reviewing the coverage of last week's League of Women Voters Board of Education Candidate Forum (aka LWVBoECF), I noticed that Bob Ballinger had advocated for "open enrollment" in Howard County schools. 

In regards to redistricting, Ballinger suggested open enrollment and more schools in the Elkridge area, while De Lacy warned again the current “broken” system of redistricting that creates “pockets of poverty” in the Columbia region.

To me, open enrollment is one of those ideas that may stir the interest of the "school choice" crowd, but is otherwise prohibitively expensive to implement (presumably diminishing its glimmer for the "fiscally responsible/school choice" coalition).  School bus routes are coordinated with redistricting to make sure that, with few exceptions, a single bus route is lined up with a single school.  Open enrollment would obliterate that arrangement and essentially undermine any attempt at publicly funded school transportation, placing that burden back onto parents in ways that may be completely unworkable.

In light of my concerns, I wrote Bob to ask him how the busing arrangement would work.  Here is his response via e-mail:

My first approach is to look at the existing transportation routes that we use for transportation to our non public schools and have drop off points to Public Schools on those routes.The second idea is to look at allowing students to stay on the bus as the bus travel to other schools for pick up and drop off. My son did that to go to a program at Wilde Lake Middle. My son stayed on the bus after it stopped at Wilde Lake High and then went to Wilde Lake Middle. The third choice would be not to offer transportation and work with the county to expand public transportation during the morning and afternoon hours.

I rode a bus for three years to a "non public school" in Baltimore County.  What took 35 minutes by car took an hour and forty five minutes by bus due to the five other schools that were serviced by this route.  I could not participate in after school activities.  I had to do homework on a bus that shook with every pot-hole, speed-bump, and stop light.  I left home at 5:45 am and walked back through my front door at night around 5 pm.  This was the choice my family made, but it would seem to me that open enrollment would force such a "choice" on those who enjoy the (oft maligned) status quo. 

The simple issue of busing does not even touch on the additional practical issues of creating a system where enrollments may fluctuate with every report of Blue Ribbons, SAT averages, and college matriculation.  It also seems to ignore the favorable effect, often captured by geography, of parental involvement on individual achievement of our students.  Busing Junior from Laurel to West Friendship will take time that could otherwise be spent going over his math homework or teaching him how to read.

Bob has repeatedly characterized his campaign as offering "Clear and Bold Leadership" for the Howard County Board of Education.  When it comes to Open Enrollment, there is no question that his recommendation is bold, and that is commendable.  However, similar to most other Board of Education challengers, I question the need for any "bold" changes.  We need equality of opportunity and probably a better allocation of resources to bring all schools up to the same level, but Open Enrollment has far too many drawbacks to make it a viable alternative, much less a responsible option.