There are a lot more options for receiving K-12 education today than when I was growing up. Long gone are the days when parents had to pick between the public school in their district or paying pricey private school tuition out of pocket. The rise of public charter and magnet schools, state-led voucher programs, online learning, and homeschooling options has meant that parents now have no reason to settle on the closest school or pay a premium to avoid it.
Do so many options undermine the purpose of public schools though? Should all of the energy that is going into building, naming and analyzing these other schools really be channeled into strengthening the basic schools that the government gave us?
In theory, I suppose there is an argument for refocus of educational pursuits where schools already exist, instead of creating new versions. But that theory hinges on the false assumption that given the chance, public schools would find the motivation, both within and outside school walls, to improve. Since the 1918 decree that all American children must attend at least elementary school, public schools have been considered a basic right. That widespread access certainly led to a better educated public but in the process the privilege of learning has been lost.
Despite spending more on public education than France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil AND the U.K. combined, the U.S. lags behind these nations in math and science. Only 25 percent of high school graduates have the literacy skills they need to get a job. What’s more, every 26 seconds a U.S. student drops out of high school. In the democratization of education process, indifference to learning has risen and the standards at public schools have dropped.
Enter school choice - a movement that strives to improve education at ALL schools through the old-fashioned business concept of competition. Public charter and magnet schools are tuition free, just like public schools, but must make some promises in their contracts in order to stay open. If these schools of choice habitually do not reach their goals, they close. Can the same be said of public schools? The accountability level that these young additions to the public school arena bring ensures that students achieve more - and if they don’t, those schools do not stick around long.
School choice is not simply about non-traditional public schools though. The movement goes much deeper than that and empowers parents to take the reins of their children’s learning paths. Since 2007, the number of K-12 students enrolled in online public schools has risen an astonishing 450 percent. Home schooling is also on the rise as 1.77 million K-12 students are homeschooled - a number that has more than doubled since 1999. Parents are pushing back against simple acceptance of educational opportunities based on geography; they are still choosing traditional public and private schools but only after educating themselves.
At the end of January, National School Choice Week will take place. Last year, there were over 3,600 independently-held School Choice events across the country meant to celebrate choice in education. Parents, administrators, politicians, students and other community leaders are encouraged to hold rallies, open houses or other events to shine the spotlight on choice in K-12 education.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.