Jody Underwood: Give what Free Staters advocate a chance — you might be surprised (LINK)
GURUS WHO teach how to create institutional change like to say that change happens in three steps: First, they ignore you. Then they fight you. Eventually, they think it was their idea.
This is beautifully illustrated by what happened in Croydon several years ago, when some Free Staters thought it would be a good idea to set up a town tuitioning program, which is one of the mechanisms for school choice in New Hampshire.
That is, instead of sending all students in grades 5 through 12 to the failing Newport School District, Croydon would pay to send students to their choice of schools in the area, including some private schools.
At first the town’s reaction was: Yeah, sure, set up a committee to look into it. Once the town voted to put the committee’s plan into action, the resistance began: Free Staters want to destroy public schools! Parents can’t be trusted to make the right choices for their children!
Years later, the residents — including many of those who fought hardest against it — now think of town tuitioning as central to Croydon’s identity, and critical to maintaining high property values.
The town tuitioning program has been the source of several success stories. Some children who were barely surviving in their assigned schools were able to thrive when tuitioned to other schools, including a local Montessori School. Some parents were able to exercise more direct control over the values to which their children were being exposed, again by choosing private schools, including a local religious academy.
When the state tried to narrow the scope of the town tuitioning program, it was Free Staters who went to court to protect it. It was Free Staters who raised donations so that the town wouldn’t have to pay any legal fees. It was Free Staters who worked with the state legislature to shepherd a bill onto the governor’s desk, making it possible for any town to follow Croydon’s lead in doing what was best for children.
And, since the private schools cost less than the public schools, it was better for Croydon’s taxpayers.
It’s ironic that some of the parents whose children have benefitted from town tuitioning — precisely because it offered an improvement over the traditional way of doing things — recently led a fear-and-smear campaign against Free Staters for trying to improve the academic performance of students while spending less money.
That’s just history repeating itself.
There’s an irrational fear — propped up by name calling — that Free Staters are out to destroy public institutions when really they are trying to make them work better.
That is the lesson of town tuitioning in Croydon. As with many lessons, it may have to be repeated several times before it sinks in. Up next is changing how we think about fairness in education, by switching the focus from school funding to student achievement. Once again, the resistance is fierce, but the outcome is inevitable.
In New Hampshire, they say if you don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes and you’ll get something you like better. If you don’t like what Free Staters are doing now, just wait a few years and you’ll think it was your idea.
Jody Underwood chairs the Croydon School Board