Jan. 23-29 is National School Choice Week. This is the fourth of a five-part series of commentaries exploring the successes and challenges of educational choice and the people fighting to make it available to all American schoolchildren.
All children in the United States should have access to a quality education, no matter their race, gender, background, or religion. However, in my experience, no one school is a perfect fit for every student. Parents and students need more choices beyond the traditional public schools assigned to them based on their address.
Even within the same household, children sometimes need different school environments to be successful. Specific academic programs, transportation considerations, special needs, or sports options might suit one, some, or all of the students in a family.
For my daughters, it was important to attend schools that fit with their learning styles. My oldest child learned best when she read, heard the information, and then wrote the ideas in her notebooks. She attended a small private school where she excelled and subsequently pursued her Bachelor of Science in nursing.
My second child learned by hearing and then reviewing her own notes in study groups. She thrived in a district public school environment and also pursued a nursing degree.
While my daughters ended up in very similar careers, they reached their end goals via very different pathways.
Today, I am a live-in support person with my grandson, who is a single father raising his children in South Texas. Together, we are very hands-on with his two children, who are currently attending IDEA McAllen, a Texas public charter school. We opted for the charter school because its core values, focus on preparing students for higher education, and rigorous academics make it a good match for our household.
IDEA set a high bar for the children starting in pre-K. The importance of how a great education can prepare students for college or a career has been a part of the daily discussions at our school. We are witnessing that these children not only thrive in their core academics but also “learn how to learn.”
Today, one of my great-grandchildren is a second grader and the other a fifth grader. Each already knows how to research information and to present findings in an orderly fashion on paper and within specific assignments. They are also learning time management and how to pace themselves in the process of reaching their goals.
Public charter schools like IDEA offer solutions for more and more families today trying to meet their children’s needs. They are unique in that they can offer options not always available at assigned district schools.
Unfortunately, charter schools are sometimes treated as a threat to traditional public schools when it comes to decisions about school funding and expansion. Here in Texas, charters must succeed—and many do so—with less overall funding per student than traditional districts.
It is imperative that we preserve our rights as parents to choose the best option for each of our children.
Preserving our choices is more important now than ever. Families are facing countless challenging decisions regarding masks, vaccines, remote learning, or even sending their children back to campus. Having many options might seem daunting, but there is no single “right answer” for every student. In a fast-changing world, it’s important that we have the freedom to make the right decisions for each child.
Our children deserve the best we can give them. Protecting our choices as parents means protecting our children’s futures—and that shouldn’t be controversial.
Tomorrow: Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education Reform at the Washington Policy Center in Washington state, explains why “Contrary to What You Might Hear, Public Schools Have Plenty of Funding.”
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