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: