The following story appeared at Reason online Free Minds and Free Markets.
The Agony of American Education
How per-student funding can revolutionize public schools
Imagine a city with authentic public school choice—a place where the location of your home doesn’t determine your child’s school. The first place that comes to mind probably is not San Francisco. But that city boasts one of the most robust school choice systems in the nation.
Caroline Grannan, a public school advocate and super-involved parent, lobbied hard to wear down the San Francisco school district back in 1996 and get her son William, then an incoming kindergartner, out of his assigned neighborhood school, Miraloma Elementary, and into a “more desirable” alternative school called Lakeshore. In 1996 Miraloma had low test scores and a low-income student body bused in from other neighborhoods; its middle-class neighbors shunned it. Lakeshore had a better reputation and higher student performance.
Once, Grannan remembers, it was conventional wisdom in San Francisco that there were only five decent public schools in the city; if you couldn’t get your child into one of them, it was time to move to the suburbs or to find a private academy. But a lot has changed since 1996. Today Grannan could send her child to any school within the city. What’s more, she would happily send her kids to Miraloma, one of many elementary schools in San Francisco that now attract eager middle-class clients. Miraloma has a new principal with a parent-friendly attitude, has begun to raise its test scores, and is more diversified. Families now feel secure taking advantage of Miraloma’s longstanding positive attributes, including its small size and its sheltered and attractive setting.
Grannan’s more recent experience with her children’s middle school also reflects how San Francisco schools have changed. Her son William just graduated from Aptos Middle School, and her daughter Anna started sixth grade there this year. This school is now in high demand, but in 1996 parents considered it dirty, dangerous, and academically weak. Today it offers enriched language, arts, and music programs, and its test scores continue to improve.
Grannan is more than just a concerned parent. She is a founding member of the San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools, a PTA board member, and a prolific writer whose articles about local schools appear in the San Francisco Examiner and other publications. She has argued passionately against both vouchers and charter schools, and would wince to be portrayed as a partisan of school choice. Yet she has become an avid supporter of the San Francisco system and the benefits it brings to San Francisco families.
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