It’s National School Choice Week (NSCW) and those who devote their professional and personal lives to the advocacy, writing, and evaluation of policies and policymakers responsible for the availability and accessibility of high-quality options, are celebrating the hard work of the previous twelve months as well as the schools, optional and otherwise, that make such a week worth commemorating.
Though the celebration is not limited to non-traditional public schools, charter school proponents lead the pack with festivities honoring the seminal role they play on the school choice stage.
Education reformers, charter school leaders, grassroots organizers and policy wonks certainly deserve a pat on the back, but there are others that deserve to publicly take a bow.
Too many school district leaders throughout the country are hostile to charter schools and other options and do one or both of the following: offer superficial choice and creating a choice process impossible for parents to navigate. Superficial choice says to parents: “looky, your child may attend this really high-performing school but you must get them there.” If transportation becomes a barrier, is it really choice? In the same spirit, some districts require parents to submit multiple applications to as many locations with instructions buried twenty-levels deep inside district websites, as seen in Oakland, CA.
According to the Center for Reinventing Public Education report on Common Enrollment, Parents and School Choice, there is a national push for common enrollment which “allows families to fill out a single application with a single deadline for any and all schools they wish to apply to. It’s meant to cut down on the confusion and stress of choosing a school and to assure families that the application process will be fair.” While this is not perfect, it’s an effort that illustrates a district’s commitment to empowering families.
So we must acknowledge districts not completely closed to the idea of offering choice, that offer choices worthy of celebration and present a clear roadmap to accessing these choices.
I’ll start with hats off to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools! For years, the district has worked to offer families a menu of options, providing transportation in some instances. And with the introduction of charter schools more than fifteen years ago, Nashville has increased, though slowly, high-performing choices to families. While the choice application and selection process are not perfect, district leaders work hard to make the process as accessible and navigable as possible.
But perhaps I’m most proud of the district’s Big Hairy Audacious Decision to hold the annual School Choice Festival during this year’s National School Choice Week! Metro Schools — 180 schools strong — includes charters, magnets, high schools with dozens of career academies, International Baccalaureate, open enrollment schools (schools with extra capacity opened to anyone), GREAT zoned schools (based on address) and more. I don’t know if the decision is rooted in fight or spite, but either way, parents win. To borrow a phrase from Metro Schools, yes, “excellence is everywhere.”
The REAL MVP of School Choice Week
Speaking of parents, without them there is no National School Choice Week. If there is an NSCW parade, the grand marshals should be parents who, by selecting the school that best fits, are making their first, best investment in their child’s educational lives. As a matter of fact, let’s just call it National Parent Educational Selection Week!
Moms, dads, grandparents and other guardians: I salute you! The choice is yours.