Continuing my “What’s the big deal” series. I have a conversation going with “Tom” on Chambanamoms.org; when I read his comments one of the many thoughts that pop into my head is this elusive thing we call “fair”. What is fair?
1 [fair] Show IPA adjective, fair·er, fair·est,adverb, fair·er, fair·est, noun, verb
- free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice: a fair decision; a fair judge.
- legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules: a fair fight.
- moderately large; ample: a fair income.
- neither excellent nor poor; moderately or tolerably good: fair health.
- marked by favoring conditions; likely; promising: in a fair way to succeed.
There are many more definitions listed (wow!), but this is a good start. I have this gut feeling that most people tend towards #5, while the “system” is set up more for #1 with emphasis on justice (ie, social justice). Reading Alves response to one of my questions a while back, he mentions “fairness guidelines” and “fairness” a fair number of times. Reading his books and talking to him, I know he has a heart and passion to explicitly give a wider margin of opportunity for those that typically have fewer opportunities. I respect that. His stance on equity seems to align more closely with the first definition of fair.
Tom has been kind enough to leave his thoughts in a public forum, but I believe that his words can be echoed in many parents’ minds. “The system gives low SES kids chances to get into good school. Why not my kid?” This tells me a couple things.
First, Tom does not think all the schools in Unit 4 are “good”. Unfortunately, Tom does not tell us how he defines “good” or how he came to such a conclusion, but let us take his words at face value – the choice data clearly tells us that a lot of parents want to get into Barkstall and Bottenfield. Why? What drives these decisions? If anything, I would say this is the most critical and primary failing of Unit 4 for new, incoming parents. If Unit 4 were able to remove the anxiety of “getting a good school”, they will have improved their image exponentially.
Second, Tom is going to bat for his kid. Kudos to Tom. What about all the other kids who do not have anyone batting for them? Is that “fair”? This is another sentiment that I came across quite often. I have a colleague at work who shares the same “want what’s best for me kid” mentality – it is very natural and very common. Yet, I am going to challenge this mentality. I am not going to say we must ignore our children (far be it from me to suggest that!), but rather, I firmly believe we grow together better when a wider focus is adopted. Alves’ book “Student Diversity, Choice, and School Improvement” seems to argue that the best approach is the both and method, chasing excellence and equity at the same time, creating a sort of upward spiral that feeds off itself. It is hard for us to adopt such a duality – we so much want one or the other.
So what exactly is fair when it comes to school assignment? I see and hear a lot of people making noises about the apparent unfairness. I also hear the FIC saying that the current system “WORKS!” (said very confidently, as if that alone will convince people). I see these two groups tossing stones over a fence and not really opening up the gate to walk around to the other side to see things from that perspective. I am going to cheat a little and say that asking “what is fair” about the kindergarten school assignment process is not the right question. If you want to ask what fair is, start looking at the kids that dropout. Start looking at the kids who struggle with reading. Start looking at the kids who struggle with self-confidence, the kids who act out for some form of attention. And then ask yourself how is public education serving these valued and important people? Look at the classrooms in which a teacher is challenged to provide instruction to multiple learning styles concurrently, and ask how the Administration is serving them.
In my opinion, the problem with the current “lottery” system is that of almost pure perception – nothing else. I invite people to disagree with me (please, please present another point of view!). In my opinion, we have bigger fish to fry. And yes, one of those fish is getting the community (the stakeholders for crying out loud) on the same page as the District (the Administration and the Board). The lottery is a small piece of that communication pie, but a very practical one to start with.