Four years before the "new" Sudbury Elementary School was built in 1980 (it was new only in the sense that the last of the really old one-room schools had been closed in the late '60's), the journal of the Australian Educational Research group used the term "the Matthew Effect" to describe how students who do well in the early grades do even better academically and personally later on, while those who don't, for whatever reasons of parental influence, peer pressure, or personal choice, subsequently do progressively worse. Now that the highest-spending typically urban districts are those with the worst achievement results, it's hard to blame inadequate spending, and now that alternative schools produce the best achievement results with the least-formally-accredited teachers, it's hard to blame the teachers, but not impossible: both higher spending and stiffer teacher certification are still pushed as establishment-recommended remedies, real-world experience notwithstanding. The Matthew Effect still isn't a widely used term, but it should be; it accurately describes how, to paraphrase the First-Century Gospel scribe, to those who have mastery of the basics early on, a lot more will come easily, while to those who have little or none, they'll fall further behind, and their future prospects aren't good.
The public-education establishment embraces some of the Matthew Effect: it's the underlying argument in favor of Head Start, for example (which has failed so indefensibly that the latest pro-HS argument is that it hires lots of adults who spend their earnings swiftly and stimulate the economy) and in disfavor of small elementary schools, which supposedly can't produce early achievement results equal to the better-resourced large elementaries, even though the latter are typically organized to emulate the former by means of sub-division into "houses" and, of course, ever-smaller classes. It rejects the other half of the Matthew Effect through efforts to neutralize it, which explains why the most teacher effort is supposed to go to the poorer (both definitions applicable) students and the least to the better ones. Nothing new about that. When I was in grade school long before the Matthew Effect was even dreamed up, we who got the lesson first time around were sent to the fixed seats in the rear of the room to read any book we had brought, while the teacher spent all her time with the third of the class which hadn't gotten it. She wasn't allowed to expand on the lesson with us. Indeed, in its current format, the federally-designed No Child Left Behind legislation is specifically structured to punish teachers and districts with poor students but not to reward or even recognize those who (and which) produce good ones.
The Feds are now arguing over which factor - maternal literacy or neighborhood socio-economic status (hey, guys, there's a direct correlation) - is most conducive to early grade-level achievement, but the more literate parents already know the answer, which is why they've historically made neighborhood SES a major part of their domestic rental or purchase geographic decisions, which in turn explains why a lot of former Bostonians are now in Brookline and a lot of former Manhattanites are now in Manhasset, and, indeed, why a lot of former New Jersey-ites are now in Vermont, and why a lot of urbanite and suburbanite families have fled to more rural surroundings and now, frequently, form the basis of a consumer demand for alternative education not bound by the various constraints which public education has acquired, particularly in recent decades. It's why non-public enrollment in Vermont has grown remarkably, albeit from a tiny statistical base, in those same recent decades. New private schools have been established - think Aurora, Bridge, or Gailer in Middlebury-while a public one has gone private -think Mountain in Winhall-and a few public ones have been dissuaded from privatization by their public-ed superintendents -think Whiting and Cabot. Presently Addison will face the same decision. And Sudbury, which is under SED pressure to close, could well choose to privatize.
As previous entrants into private-sector K-12 have shown, there's a substantial and growing niche-market demand by literate parents for alternative education venues for their offspring, for schools which don't employ policies intended at cancelling out the Matthew Effect, schools which, instead of sidelining students who've grasped the lesson, devote at least as much effort to expanding on it for them as to trying yet again with those who haven't grasped it, to pursuing an achievement result, for some, better than bare "proficiency" (public schools score at about 30 percent on bringing their students to proficiency). With that quite-different-from-public-ed objective, a privatized Sudbury School would, I'd guess, fairly rapidly fill the 40 seats now empty under public-ed management. It would operate efficiently at its planned 60-pupil capacity with every seat generating both revenue and education, and performing both functions by free-choice, no-coercion contract with those involved - those who pay for it and those who learn from it.
Ideally, I'd add, Sudbury taxpayer/parents who involuntarily support the present school should somehow get a credit for tuition at the new one; but, in the modern Vermont, such a political target is probably a bridge too far. As the Whiting exploration more than a decade ago showed, official anti-privatization pressure can be intense, and resistance to any form of tax credits or vouchers for alternative venues ("which would cruelly starve public education of sorely-needed funds") has typically been dominant not in just one little State, but in all 50. Even the District of Columbia wouldn't allow a tiny charter alternative to continue, a display of the political-ideology component of public-education more instructive than any number of lectures about Massachusetts free-public-ed advocate Horace Mann and his one-classroom-per-grade design doctrine; or Vermont educational-theory icon John Dewey, who acquired his enthusiasm for less-individual and more-collective education from his 1928 visit to the Soviet Union.
Longtime Addison County resident Martin Harris now keeps his eye on Vermont from Tennessee.