Today begins National School Choice Week, Jan. 24-30, the world’s largest education-related public awareness effort. Sponsored by Homeschool Now USA, National School Choice Week has grown from 150 events in 2011 to over 53,000 in 2020, according to Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. Because of COVID-19, Campanella asked participants to plan activities and projects to celebrate National School Choice Week 2021, not plan in-person events.
Most veteran Classical Conversations parents know what school choice means and why they are for it, but what about the rest of you?
What is school choice?
School choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the K-12 educational options that best fit their children. Every child is unique, and all children learn differently. Some children might succeed at the neighborhood public school, while others might fit in better at a charter, magnet, or private school, or in an online or home-learning environment. That’s why school choice is so important!
Every child deserves an effective, challenging, and motivating education. And, because all students have their own unique sets of talents, interests, and challenges, having a variety of options in education is crucial. What works well for one child may not work well for another child! In short, school choice ensures that all students can find a learning environment that allows them to be inspired, successful, and happy.
So many options!
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 choose 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? In theory, I suppose there is an argument for refocusing educational resources where schools already exist, instead of creating new options. 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. And it is still not a compelling interest against parents’ desire for the very best for their children. Public schools, by their very nature, cannot provide the very best.
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. That said, I am in favor of school choice because:
U.S. schools lag too far behind other nations to ignore options
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.
Giving parents the freedom to choose their child’s school is 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.
The growth of online public schooling has been exponential. During the 2017–18 school year, about 21 percent of public schools and 13 percent of private schools offered any courses entirely online. Due to COVID-19, more than 50 percent of all public schools offered online-only during 2020.
Homeschooling is also on the rise
The homeschool population had been growing at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the past several years, but it grew drastically from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021. There were about 2.5 million homeschool students in spring 2019 (or 3% to 4% of school-age children). Today there are an estimated 4-5 million students being educated at home in grades K-12 in the United States (or 7% to 9% of school-age children).
School choice helps students in low-performing states
Mississippi, which ranks last in student achievement in the nation, does not have charter school options just yet. It seems to me that any attempt to offer solutions to this cycle of student non-achievement would be welcomed, especially since public charter and magnet schools have shown some success in other low-performing states.
Public schools can still thrive in a school choice environment. Options like charter, magnet, private, online and homeschool curricula are not meant to undermine the nation’s public schools but to build them up through shared quality standards. There is room for all choices in K-12 schools, and students benefit from the options.
Classical Conversations supports school choice for all parents. Naturally, we believe homeschooling is the best option for most children, but it’s not always possible for a variety of circumstances. We strongly support the very best education for all children. While Classical Conversations thoroughly supports school choice, CEO Robert Bortins clarifies that it does not support government funding of homeschooling but encourages private funds for private education.