I have been investigating, and you have been commenting on, the future structure of K-12 education. In my morning paper there is an article about National School Choice Week, particularly important here in San Diego, which has one of the strongest school choice programs in the nation. Families can apply for their students to attend any traditional, magnet, or charter school in the district, the second largest in California. One parent described the maze of applications and campus visits. Will it be a Chinese language program or STEM magnet? Performing arts focus or high-tech charter?
I have been talking about the critical role of value proposition in forming school strategy and program development. It should be easy to grab attention on the value discussion when we are talking about a private school that costs $25,000-$50,000 a year. The discussion has been less obvious in the public domain, but snaps into focus with the drive towards more choice for families in more major urban districts. 2.3 million American students are now at public charter schools, and many more opt for a non-neighborhood alternative.
Here is the punch line that should resonate with all educators who worry about the future, which should be all of us. Jed Wallace, executive director of the California Charter School Association: “…when people are empowered to make choices, their level of buy-in and investment at the school level is greater.” That is a powerful statement for us to carve into our consciousness for two reasons. First, the customer, not the organization, determines value. Public and private schools alike must identify and amplify their differentiated value as seen through the eyes of prospective families, not through the eyes of just the school leadership. Second, this empowerment to make choices is exactly what we are talking about as the core of student-owned learning, that drives student “buy-in and investment” in their own education. When a school can empower both students and parents by engaging them to make their own choices, learning will flourish.
What does the system of K-12 learning look like 10 years from now? The constructal law demands that it will be deep and strong where the flow of ideas is greatest, and weak where resistance to big ideas is dammed. Schools that offer access to fresh ideas and exciting programs will flourish at the expense of those that do not. It will be more widely distributed with universal access to a global knowledge network, the cognitosphere. Outcomes and essential learning goals will be more diverse as colleges and other post-secondary nodes offer a vastly increased range of non-traditional learning opportunities, which prepare young people for jobs that evolve more quickly every year. Choice is inevitable, regardless of the politics driving decisions like voucher programs in your state.
Public or private, all schools need just one thing to survive: students. If your school charges $40,000 a year or is free to the public, you should be sharing the same discussion: Why should a student come to our school rather than the one down the street?