School choice saves public education, in Edmonton and Boston

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Edmonton, Alberta’s Angus McBeath is back in town this week, which is good news for the Commonwealth’s public school students – though it’s too bad they won’t get to see him. Pioneer is reintroducing Mr. McBeath to education policy leaders in Springfield and Holyoke, and at the Boston Foundation and BU, and his message deserves to be heard:

Teaching is the most important paid work in society.
– Angus McBeath, from 2005 Lovett C. Peters Lecture in Public Policy

As the Superintendent of Edmonton’s public schools, Mr. McBeath presided over dramatic systemwide reforms. Each school’s performance was measured, and that data was made available to parents, who could then choose any school they wanted for their child. District funding followed children to the most effective schools.

It sounds impossible, but it worked. Edmonton’s efforts elevated the teaching profession, as every school improved, because it had to. Of course, it’s assumed that such transformation could never happen here. Inertia and bureaucracy are blamed for the persistent failure of urban public education, but Mr. McBeath rejects such excuses:

School districts rarely want to be truly reformed because the ruling class of any system never wants to reform anything that reduces its power and authority, although they say they do.

As Mr. McBeath meets this week with policy analysts and professors, keep in mind that all the arcana of the education debate surrounds one simple question:

Whose schools are they?

If we believe they belong to parents, students, and the teachers they need, then our schools should get to know Mr. McBeath’s ideas a little better.