We are going through a fairly hot debate in our district right now around specialized schooling. The discussion has centred on a particular arts-based (our only one) elementary school, but if you look deeply, it’s really a debate on public schooling in general. Essentially, the question is:
Should public school districts offer specialized elementary schools (such as language immersion, arts, sports, technology, etc.) to students?
One side of the debate contends that families need to be given choice in the public system. One size does not fit all, and we need to cater to multiple needs. Many proponents of this view use anecdotes of students that were disenchanted or marginalized in mainstream schools, and were subsequently rejuvenated (for lack of a better word) in the specialized ones.
The other side posits that specialized schools leave us with less impetus to change what is wrong with our current system. Similar to arguments for universal healthcare, they contend that as long as people can opt out, there is no need to improve and evolve the status quo. Furthermore, the extent to which the arts, sports, gifted education, or technology is seen as a ‘specialty’ item shines a glaring light on their marginalization from mainstream schooling.
Interestingly, both sides will defend the importance of equity in the issue. The pro side says it is inequitable that families cannot choose a specialized school for their children. The nay vista argues the inequity of having to, in some cases, audition or be first in line for these schools (also noting how SES correlates greatly with a family’s ability to do so).
I’m likely not doing justice here to the nuances of the argument, so I’m hoping you can add your two cents or more. The reason I am blogging about this is because I myself am really on the fence with the issue, and am interested in sparking more discussion on it.
What are your thoughts on, and experience with, specialized public schools? What is best for the greater good?