Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fight or Flight

I graduated from high school second in my class. I received a full academic scholarship to a small, regional state university in Missouri and graduated from there with honors. In high school, I had a science teacher who told me I may be at the top of my small, rural class - but when I got to college I would find that I was just average. Some pep talk. Actually, it made me want to fight hard to prove that I deserved my high GPA and other accolades.

Now my two step-sisters are another story. They went to a different school (still small and rural) but they were both in the gifted program at their school. Both scored a 30 or higher on their ACT and received the Missouri Bright Flight program. They attended a highly selective Missouri university and have both since earned Master's Degrees in Education. I doubt any of their teachers told them they were average.

I know that they worked hard in college and studied, etc. But it wasn't a fight. See, they were on a flight - the Bright Flight. (Notice my play on words there fight and flight, I digress...). I only bring this up because of an announcement in President Bush's 2008 State of the Union Address. He talked about a program for elementary and secondary kids that would operate like a Federal Pell Grant (a need-based program used now for entering college students) and it just reminded me a lot of Missouri's Bright Flight program.

Here's the rundown:

· Graduating seniors who take the ACT by June of their senior year and score a composite score of 30 or above receive a renewable $2000 scholarship from the state that they may apply to any school of their choice. (I know a few kids who used Bright Flight to make a truck payment). The ACT score will be raised to 31 for the 2008-09 school year.

· Here's the cool part - these high achieving students can use Bright Flight at any participating Missouri college or university. What a concept!

It seems to me that President Bush is making a pretty good argument. The Federal Pell Grant program is great and helps a lot of college students nationally. Why not use it as a model for K-12? But even better, would be for Missouri to bring it closer to home. Why not model a program for the elementary and secondary kids in Missouri after the Bright Flight program? It doesn't have to be limited to high achieving kids - but instead opened up for low income kids or used in school districts that are failing. I've never heard anybody complain about Bright Flight - it's a great incentive to keep Missouri's brightest students in our state. Couldn't we use the same incentive to strengthen our public schools by introducing choice? If a kid can choose which school to attend - it could introduce a little friendly competition between schools and in the end we'd all be better off. If this makes sense to me - an average mind - then why wouldn't it make sense to some of the greatest minds in our state? I should ask my step-sisters what they think.

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