School officials in Westport are rightfully concerned that more than half the 2016 eighth grade class is opting for high school outside of town. As School Committee member Carolina Africano explained to me, some students choose Diman Voc-tech, Bishop Stang or Bishop Connelly. Sometimes they leave for religious reasons. For some, it's the desire to learn a trade or a family member went to that school.

A surprising number of Westport 8th and 9th graders, 15 at last count, are jumping ship and swimming over to neighboring Dartmouth High School this fall. DHS is a larger and newer Level 1 government high school compared to WHS. For whatever that's worth.

Dartmouth High has opened up several student placement slots, in the Freshman and Sophomore classes, under the state's existing school choice program. The program allows host communities to accept students from any Massachusetts city or town to be educated in their district. Slots are filled by lottery. Fifteen slots were magically gobbled up by Westport students. 

School choice provides students and families great options:

  1. The opprtunity for a student from one environment to be educated in another. (Rural Westport to a more populated suburban/rural Dartmouth)
  2. The chance for students to receive better and/or safer schooling compared to their home district. No student wants an inferior education, and all schools cannot be created equal!
  3. Less expensive and better extra-curricular sports/activities. 

The host school benefits by getting additional dollars. A sizable portion of the educational tax dollars must follow the student. The extra $$$s can be set aside for:

  • The computer lab
  • More teachers
  • Musical instruments
  • On-line learning

The naysayers whine school choice strips funding away from their district. These teachers and administrators fail to see that giant square pieces can't all fit into a round hole. School choice opens the door for schools to be specific in their educational mission. For a city like New Bedford the high school can beef up English Language Arts, the foreign language and visual arts departments to not only reach the city's ESL population, but to attract neighboring students desiring to pursue this vital educational tract.

The private sector is all too familiar with survival of the fittest. School choice forces schools to get better and actively compete for students. If the school doesn't improve, parents won't send their child/children there. And similar to a business with few or no customers, the failing school will shut its doors. Lesson learned!

Brian Thomas, Brian's Beat, Monday-Friday 10 AM-Noon