Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Changing the Narrative: What’s Missing from National School Choice Week

Originally published at Changing the Narrative on 1/31/2017

National School Choice began in 2011 with 150 events and concluded this week with 16,745 events to spread the word about school choice options.  According to the website, National School Choice Week is about giving parents the opportunity to select from an array of K-12 options that include, “traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.” Implied is the assumption that parents want and need a choice because the traditional system of children attending neighborhood schools is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of parents. Given that some school districts are under-resourced due to the unequal property tax system that funds public education, there are many challenges facing neighborhood schools. But instead of improving these schools, the current solution is to give parents a choice to go to another type of school. And when they go they take the funding allocated per child with them and bring it to the school of their choice. 
Proponents of school choice have always believed that competition and a free market is what is needed to fix America’s public schools. When parents and children become consumers of public education they can force schools to offer the best educational environments or risk losing customers and eventually closing.  Parental choice will drive the market and improve the offerings.  Well that sounds good in theory, but only if all choices are on the table. If the only choices parents and students have are the ones that make the most profit for shareholders how can we say they are getting the best of the market? What if parents want to choose something that is not being offered? How will a market based system serve those needs? Well if National School Choice Week wants me to join in the celebration next year, below are five choices I would like to see added to the program.
  1. The choice to opt out of all standardized testing and non-teacher made assessments. Opting out is the best choice a parent can make when they do not want their child to be used as a pawn in the standardized testing industrial complex. Assessment is an essential factor for good teaching and learning, but standardized testing is only one type of assessment and has grown into an insidious monster that wreaks havoc in schools. If National School Choice Week really cares about what is best for parents, then they will add opting out as a choice to be recognized and celebrated.
  2.  The choice for every child to have access to equitably resourced and diverse sustainable community schools. This might sound like a traditional public school that is supposedly included in National School Choice Week, but its more. To have this type of school some school choice options would not be allowed to drain resources and funding from public schools as they do now.  The commitment to high quality public schools needed to ensure they are sustainable would interfere with the need for some charter management operations to expand their profit margin at any cost. Additionally, current choice schools that filter children out who have special needs, are English Language Leaners, or simply make the application process so tough so they can select the students they want, would present a challenge to ensuring that parents can choose diverse schools.
  3. The choice for a school culture that strives for racial and gender equity. Equity is not the same as equality but for many supporters of choice it is easy to conflate the two. True equity means understanding what a group needs and giving it to them even if it means another group does not have it because they do not need it. If we are to have real racial and gender equity, then we must acknowledge that certain groups have been disadvantaged because of their race or gender and we commit to giving them what they need to succeed without questioning whether it is fair to the dominant group.  Will National School Choice Week recognize this choice and commit to helping parents get it?
  4. The choice for restorative practices instead of punitive discipline (i.e., detention, suspension, and expulsion). Every year we learn that schools punish black and brown boys and girls at higher rate than their white peers and that this disturbing trends begins in pre-school. We also know that when schools implement restorative practices the need for punitive discipline plummets. So why shouldn’t parents get to choose educational environments that implement restorative justice?
  5. The choice for ethnic studies and culturally relevant curriculum. Do parents have the right to choose a curriculum that values their children’s culture and uses it as an asset in the classroom? I believe they do and I think a true celebration of school choice would recognize that many children do not get this opportunity. Instead they are taught from a cultural deficiency perspective that blames their families and communities for their educational challenges.  True choice includes a choice in what gets taught and how it is taught to ensure that each child can see themselves and their culture in the curriculum as a positive contribution to society.

These are just some of the choices I noticed were missing in National School Choice Week celebration.  If the true intent is to provide parents with opportunities in education, then that would include the opportunity for these choices and many more.  If as I suspect, it is just a ploy to push charters and online schools then I will not hold my breath waiting for my choices to be added to next years celebration. The current system of choice is not about parents choosing good schools its about schools choosing good students and ensures that many families lose.


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