The Role of Personality In Choice Programs

Published May 1, 1999

In a February 14 article, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel named some of the Milwaukee Public Schools that have accomplished excellent goals in recent years. The author presented these examples of success as exceptions to the rule in MPS. MPS educators and administrators are struggling to “replicate” the success in a systematic way.

Yet the article demonstrated pretty clearly that those examples of success were brought about by strong-willed individuals who practice independent thinking, not by any kind of formula. The author of the article used a considerable amount of space to list some of the qualities common to well-performing MPS schools:

  • a stable, strong teaching staff;
  • a strong team spirit; and
  • strong leadership.

The article quotes Milwaukee School Board Member John Gardner on the subject, who said that the best schools in Milwaukee take “undogmatic” approaches to education.

Many elements contribute to the success or failure of an enterprise such as a school. One of the most important elements necessary for success, if not the most important element, is the presence of people with strong character–personalities who embolden those around them.

That is not to say that failing schools lack people of strong character. Some circumstances present obstacles that demand more than what strong character can accomplish by itself. Nonetheless, it would be strange to find a successful operation like a school not being led by one or more people of integrity–personalities who command respect. The greatness of any organization is always derived from the greatness of its members.

In a school choice system it is the presence of strong personalities that allows parents to choose one school over another. When parents in an authentic choice system are presented with a full range of options for the education of their children, they are able to recognize and choose successful schools because they have either experienced first-hand contact with the personalities who are responsible for success in those schools, or they have witnessed the effects of those personalities.

It is impossible for an educational bureaucracy to systematize that kind of success. Monopoly situations provide little incentive for strong-willed, independent thinking. However, when competition exists, people of character rise to the occasion.

In a choice-based educational system, parents have the capacity to choose schools being led by people of strong character. Strong personalities are directly rewarded for their efforts, because they have helped create an educational environment worthy of choice.