Gary GruberEducation Educational Leadership Gratitude Learning Life School TeachingOPTIMUM LEARNING: ENVIRONMENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
September 15 , 2019 /


Choosing a school in some quarters is controversial and I understand why different people respond differently when the topic of school choice comes up.  School choice has gotten a bad rap and there are some good reasons why.  One of the reasons is that charter schools, new to the scene starting in 1992, have had mixed reviews because some of the founders and operators have lacked integrity and deserve to be charged accordingly.  However, as with apples in the barrel, don’t let the bad ones spoil the good ones.

I am a huge fan and a product of public schools and two different state universities for three of four degrees.  I support public schools and teachers wholeheartedly and I believe there are good school choices within districts and beyond.  I have worked in both the public and private arenas and can compare environments and results along with the many challenges faced by all educators today.

Most people think it’s a good idea for older students to choose which college, university or post-secondary learning opportunity they want to attend so why not have a choice earlier?  How early on the K-12 continuum?  As a proponent of “one size does not fit all,” one school is not necessarily the best for every student attending that school.  For years, most students went to the school where they were assigned, usually according to proximity and residence, without regard for whether or not it was a good fit.

Today there are a myriad of choices from Pre-Kindergarten, often a conscious choice on the part of parents, all the way through, beginning with elementary, and continuing through middle school and high school.  I have trouble with some the hierarchical nomenclature and what it suggests.  Elementary?  Middle?  High?  What, as opposed to Lower?  What about Primary and Secondary?  Same problem but let’s not get mired down with semantics.

The point is that there are many choices in “free” public schools, different schools within your own district, to private/independent schools that charge tuition and offer financial aid, to faith-based schools.  There are schools for children with special needs and there are boarding schools where students live while they learn.  There are Montessori schools, magnet schools, schools for the arts, international schools as well as math and science schools.  Some schools have a college preparatory curriculum complete with AP classes and other high performing schools that have rejected AP courses. There are IB schools and LD schools. There are trade schools, apprenticeships, and school to work programs. Approximately 2 million, or 3.4% of students in the U.S., are home schooled.

Public schools educate the most students and have ever since education became compulsory.  By 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation’s children attended one-room schools. By 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.  Massachusetts was the first state to make education compulsory in 1856. I had the pleasure of being colleagues with two schools in Philadelphia that began in 1690, chartered by William Penn. They are still active, vital places of learning for K-12 students.  The K-12 school where I was head in the late 80’s, early 90’s was started in 1894, 125 years ago.

So, what is the right, best school for a child at any age?  And how do you make an informed choice, one based on needs, interests and offerings?  What are the realistic possibilities and are there resources that you could explore further?  Children, and their parents, want to have a positive, productive educational experience and those opportunities exist everywhere.  Finding them can be a challenge and with research, conversations, and sufficient information, the possibilities increase dramatically.

What most parents want for their children is a learning environment that is safe, supportive, encouraging and exciting; teachers who are competent, caring and paid more adequately; opportunities for their children to explore their interests in some depth and breadth; and a place where they can develop a love for learning that will last a lifetime.  More than grades or scores on tests, I would hope that parents would want their children to unleash their potential and discover that they have choices that they had not even imagined possible when they began.

I recommend that parents check a school’s mission and core values to see if it aligns with what the school is actually doing and whether those are in sync with what parents want for their children. That is an essential  part of doing the work and reaping the rewards in order to insure an optimum experience.

Finally, if you want some help and guidance, have a look at this little handbook for parents:



Comments (6)

  1. I agree, proximity is not the only consideration when it comes to school choice. When we lived in the USA, we sent our son to public school and our daughter to private school. Here in Australia, we opted for public school for primary school but looked at alternatives like Steiner and how they may be a good fit for our children and family values too. Now, there are three choices for HS in our town and we looked at the options and chose again – although we weren’t doing backflips over any of them, we made a good choice. I too went to public school but a private college and my brother moved from public HS to private HS – his choice. He also held himself back a year and chose to repeat 10th grade. Education is not something to take for granted. We need to empower ourselves as parents but also empower our children to have a voice in the process.


  2. Your experience is powerful personal testimony to what I was aiming for – Parents, and students, need to know that they do not have to accept the status quo and just take what is offered. They can select from a menu of choices rather than a one dish diet. Thanks very much for weighing in. My hope is that more and more families will see the options and make a good decision that will benefit the kids better according to their needs, interest and goals.

  3. Gary, Our Son is financially stable, he is 29 and actually more financially stable than my husband and I due to a MVA on my way into work when I was 38yo. I never saw the guy who hit me and due to my choice in lawyers, he allowed them to file bankruptcy and then dropped me as a client well over a year later. So we were stuck with all the medical bills and I had just started back to work after raising my Son and getting a college degree, a judge ordered permanent and total disability despite my pleas due to a spinal cord injury. I draw about $840. every month but my husbands income knocks me out of getting any other help with the costs of meds, as just 1 rx costs $738. every month. I am 51 and have zero saved for my life later on. How I got here was while talking to God this morning and asking for His advice, I ended up here. So any help, wisdom or links would be so appreciated. I had tried to invest into a few stocks on my own very unsuccessfully with TD Ameritrade and I know it is well past needing to get serious. So like I said any info would be welcomed. I am also an Artist and have done a few consignment pieces and am doing more. My email is art4life@email.com and or pamelastarr@yahoo.com. Thanks

    1. Pamela, I do not think I can be of any help not knowing where you are or what resources might be available that would help. Or how my post about educational opportunities for kids is related to your personal concerns. Seeing one of your email addresses, you might have a look at
      https://art4lifeinc.com/benefits regardless of your age. Good luck, best wishes.

      1. Gary, This week in the New Mexican was an interesting article on learning written by Regis Pecos. His concern about school choice is that none of the choices pertain to enriching children in their native culture. Consequently, children are learning our Anglo ways as the way to success.

        1. Thanks, Betty. I read that article and agree wholeheartedly. It’s one of the reasons I believe schools that honor a student’s culture, and language, might be a better choice than trying to fit the child to the school. Better that we try and help the school fit the child. You might know of Teresa Leger Fernandez’ work with Native people here and her parents starting those schools that were bi-lingual with native language as well mas English. Stories worth sharing.

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