This week is National School Choice Week, self-described as "an unprecedented opportunity to shine a spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children."
Ironically, "opportunity" for America's schoolchildren is what National School Choice Week places at risk. The further irony is "choice" can mean public tax dollars siphoned away from community schools to subsidize for-profit ventures. Vouchers, tuition tax credits and charter schools not governed by local school boards create a secondary, profit-driven system of education that strains limited resources and risks re-segregating schools, economically and socially, by admitting only certain, top-performing students.
Our nation's grassroots democracy was founded on the principle that all children, regardless of ZIP code, deserve access to a world-class education. Nine out of 10 school-age children today are enrolled in public schools, which are their gateway to the future. Choice absent accountability can hurt vulnerable students when the choice turns out to be a bad one. Unfortunately, the "choice" movement -- and its glossy public relations campaign that masks flaws by hyping "empowerment" -- jeopardizes opportunity for all students, ultimately harming our nation's global readiness and economic prosperity.
Choice exists within the public school system, as magnet schools and charters approved by local school boards attest -- with a key difference: accountability. Much like nutrition labeling, publicly funded education ensures that student outcomes are fully accountable to the public -- and accountability leads to improved outcome for all students. It is important to be aware of the choice that exists now in our nation's public schools, and discover why public school choice is the best choice -- www.standup4publicschools.org
In their 2014 book, 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education, scholars and researchers David Berliner and Gene Glass conduct a data-driven analysis that debunks the myth that private schools outperform public schools. According to Berliner, data indicate that "private schools, on average, do not offer students a competitive edge in academic performance over their peers in public schools."
America's school boards understand that transparency, accountability, and real achievement demand true engagement, not PR hype. Research shows a significant relationship between effective school board governance and student achievement. According to the Center for Public Education, the Iowa Lighthouse study, and others, strong local governance means schools boards that create vision, are accountable, make effective policy, support strong teaching and learning, engage families and communities, and ensure adequate funding for their schools. Across local community public schools, student and financial performance evaluation and open meeting requirements are the rule, not the exception.
It's time to debunk the myth of choice. It's time to reveal the profiteers who are funding the school choice movement to line their own pockets. It's time to look at real results, and see that student performance data does not support educational privatization. It's time to recognize that "real choice" is in the public schools, not "out there." It's time to recognize that "choice" risks denying opportunity -- and it's time to examine how the consequences of "choice" stand to impact our nation's productivity and future.
America's public schoolchildren are dependent on us, policymakers and the public alike, to make informed choices.