Can Public Schools Survive School Choice Initiatives?
By Matthew Lynch
The U.S. lags behind France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil AND the U.K. combined in math and science, despite spending more on public education than these nations. In addition, 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.
Based on these stats alone, change is inevitable and greatly needed. One way that Americans are trying to improve the overall educational experiences for K-12 students is through making available more choices beyond districted public schools. 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.
But, can public schools thrive in a school choice environment? I think so, yes. 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.
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.
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.
However, the logistics of allowing parents full power to choose schools outside of their districts for their kids can be a headache. There is also a fear that low-performing schools would see abandonment by students if another public school option with a higher ranking were available. While a hit against herd mentality, shouldn’t individual students have the option of a better school if it exists and is close enough for them to attend? Therein lies one of the major debates in school choice – who knows what is best? Trained educators/administrators – or individual parents?
The point can be argued either way, but parents are demanding the right for choices within the public school system. The benefits and/or consequences (if any) remain to be fully realized.
Do you feel that school choice helps or hurts public options?