School Choice: A Buyer’s Market

Navigating the Free-Market Education System

Andrew Botolino , Staff Writer


In the past 10 years, the education system in America has evolved to resemble that of a capitalistic economy, with private, public and charter schools competing for every last student.

Here in Barnstable alone, there are six schools offering a high school diploma. And with the number of young people residing on Cape declining, the fight for students and the school choice system have only heated up.

Not only is there school choice on Cape Cod, where a student can choose which public high school they want to go to regardless of where they live, there are both Sturgis East and West, two charter schools, Saint John Paul and Trinity Christian Academy, two Christian schools, and Cape Cod Academy, a private school that BHS must compete to draw students in from. And not to mention other schools like Falmouth Academy or Cape Cod Tech that each compete with Barnstable for students in their own right.

So what does Barnstable have on other schools?

“The diversity of offerings and the diversity of the student body along with faculty and staff that is second to none,” according to BHS principal Patrick Clark. Clark stressed the importance of diversity as an educational tool, repeating that “Being able to work with everybody is the best ability we can give someone to function in the 21 century world.”

Those other schools have the problem of “segmentation,” as Clark described. Through their tuition fees and selection processes, they segment the population of their students, and end up choosing a group of students not as diverse as found at BHS, and according to Clark, “a lesser learning experience.”

However, one of the main questions when deciding on what school to choose is its academic prestige and intensity. For instance, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program featured at Sturgis certainly has that, and is highly acclaimed for it–a quick glance at their website will tell you this. They proudly boast a number one high school in Massachusetts ranking by the U.S. News and World report, but that doesn’t affect Clark’s view–according to him, “I think we beat [their academic program].” The exact number of students that graduate from Sturgis with an IB diploma is not publically released, but Clark has reason to believe “it’s far below 50 percent.” He added, “when you look at the total body of work Barnstable High School is doing with Advanced Placement, I think it is more robust and has equal to or better results than what Sturgis provides.”

Barnstable also has more students–a lot more students than Sturgis, Saint John Paul, or any other school on Cape Cod. Clark claims the 1,862 students on campus is a major advantage to scholars of BHS. Not only is the program of studies “ unrivaled by any school that is geographically near us, but we also have the blessing of more adults, who can bring their unique background to the classroom.” Clark proudly added that “because we’re so big, we need to have a large and top-notch facility.” The turf field, PAC, B2BTV, and the ceramics lab are all the beneficiaries of BHS’s size, and as a result “even new schools can’t match the facilities that we have.”

In Clark’s eyes, Barnstable is the ideal high school. But many students think otherwise.

Junior Pat Armstrong attended BHS before he transferred to Saint John Paul for his Freshman year. Reflecting on the two, he articulated that he likes how “at SJP you have a personal connection with most of the students and faculty,” and added that “although having a small school can sometimes be annoying, I feel like the community feeling at [SJP] is stronger than it was at BHS. My connections with guidance counselors, teachers, faculty, and students are far more personal than they were in my limited time at BHS.”

Sports also played a large role in Armstrong’s decision to transfer. “I thought that going to a smaller school would allow me to get playing time in sports that I knew I wouldn’t have at Barnstable,” he said. The competitive athletic culture at Barnstable has been intimidating for many, seeing a lot of capable athletes swap their Red Raider jersey for a different school’s, hoping to seize the opportunity they would not find here. “At BHS I didn’t try out for sports teams because I was either afraid of being cut and getting made fun of or just not making the team all together,” Armstrong stated. It’s a telling tale that Clark certainly acknowledges.

“Our competitive athletics,” he noted, “can be both a positive and a negative for us. We know several families, to give their child a chance to participate in athletics, might be better off if the student went to a Saint John Paul or a Cape Cod Academy or a small division school.”

However, the opposite is the case for sophomore Kobe Briand. Briand was enrolled at BHS until his sophomore year, when he left to pursue an athletic and academic goal he believed was more attainable at a private school, the Brooks School in North Andover. “A lot of the teachers at my school live here, so I’m able to get as much help as I need,” he noted. In addition to his teachers, he likes the fact that “the coaches here have a lot of experience, which I think helps make me a better athlete.” Briand, like many students who’ve gone to BHS in the past, values the passionate environment here. The consistent and heavy support of the school’s athletic programs is a huge draw for BHS, and Braind emphasized that “While at Barnstable, I really enjoyed the school spirit the students bring.” But when it all came down to it, Brooks was the better fit for him.

Insight’s own Molly McNulty transferred to Barnstable for her eighth grade year “to start at the high school with everyone else.” McNulty previously attended St. Francis, but swapped schools, following in the footsteps of her older sister. “Barnstable has more options,” she noted, and special electives like the school newspaper were able to sway her decision to attend BHS.

In the grand scheme of things, Barnstable’s trends in school enrollment reflect a 77 student decrease since 2015, but that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Housing trends, athletics, and many other factors are at play. And for the first time, as Clark stated, “people can now choose schools.” That’s the root idea, and a modern day phenomena that we all, Clark, Armstrong, Briand and McNulty included, are still grasping and attempting to understand in order to reap the best of what education has to offer.