Bad Choice

September 11, 2015

It’s time to admit that school of choice may do more to harm than to help public education.

From our vantage point, we saw years ago that “choice” was disrupting schools more than it was improving them, and hindering more than enhancing the academic accomplishments of students.

What we saw years ago was that choice was more often exercised for adults’ convenience – to schools closer to child care or parents’ jobs – than for students’ academic improvement. Studies now tend to prove that observation is correct.

We also saw years ago that choice was mostly a chain reaction of prickly people. Students or their parents unhappy with their local school for one reason or another would move to a nearby school where, simultaneously, unhappy people would be moving from there to another nearby school. Studies now show that about half of choice students return to where they began; whether or not they ever accept that the fault was their own and not the fault of the first school is more difficult to discern.

In July, Michigan State University reported some of the most recent research about, and some of the faintest praise for, school of choice; but because previous studies have demonstrated that students’ learning diminishes as their mobility increases, there should have been much more scrutiny of Michigan’s school of choice policy when it was introduced 20 years ago, and as it has spread to 80 percent of Michigan school districts since 1994.

As a means of improving schools, choice has failed by making poor schools worse. As a means of integrating schools, choice and charter schools have actually re-segregated schools. And as a means of destroying neighborhoods, choice has been the perfect weapon.

You want to rebuild Michigan? Then start with neighborhoods, at the center of which will be a grocery store and a school, both within walking distance for their patrons who are invested in them.

School of choice has created problems for administrators of school sports. But what’s far worse is the damage it has done and continues to do to our students, schools and society.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.