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Do More Choices Lead to Better Schools?

September 10, 2012

The news media and educational reformers have been touting the merits of school choice and providing a myriad of choices to families. My district has embraced this whole-heartedly by infusing charter, magnet, lottery, and “focus” schools into the mix. There are schools for all boys, schools for certain grades, academic magnet schools, language emersion schools, small learning communities, and, well, this list could go on for pages. In fact, there are so many choices that many parents do not know where to begin when searching for a good fit for their child.

As a strong supporter of neighborhood and community schools, I often grapple with the idea of so much school choice. I know deep down that every school will not serve every child’s needs in the same way. In fact, having school choices is what is best for many families who strive to find a school that fits their child’s needs. I have seen first hand how some students flourish in environments and situations that my classroom or school could not provide (and vice-versa). For many students and families, greater flexibility is indeed necessary.

However, I am disturbed at the notion that these choice schools are taking away from the human capital and financial support that neighborhood schools need and deserve. There are numerous “choice schools” that are not performing up to the standards necessary. In fact, there are some of these schools that are failing children. The students are not thriving and learning in some environments, and this is a true travesty.

Let us be critical when granting schools this “choice” status. I applaud the school board’s recent decision not to back down when pressed to grant a charter to Great Hearts. Board members had the foresight to notice this school was not prepared to adequately serve all students. It is my hope that we can continue to view school choice through a critical lens to ensure that the choices being provided will serve students in ways that are not currently possible. I also sincerely hope that we can continue monitoring those schools of choice with the same expectation for success we hold for neighborhood and zoned schools. A greater quantity of school choices is not enough. We must strive for every choice to be of the highest quality.


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