It’s National School Choice Week, and school choice advocates across the country are coming together to promote educational opportunity for the nation’s children.
But just what is “school choice,” and why is it so important?
School choice takes a variety of forms: private school choice, pubic school choice, charter schools, virtual education, homeschooling, or a combination of methods. Perhaps more importantly however, is that for children—from rural towns to inner cities—school choice means a greater opportunity for academic success in a nation where public education is too often failing to meet the call.
For example, private school choice—often provided in the form of a scholarship (voucher)—means that low-income students in Washington, D.C., have the opportunity to leave underperforming and dangerous public schools via the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. For families of special-needs students in Georgia, it means that parents can choose schools that will best help their children excel via the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
Additionally, for families in Florida, the option of public school choice opens the doors out of underperforming schools and gives students the opportunity to attend a better performing public school. Instead of being limited by their zip code, these families now have a choice. On top of this, charter schools—publicly funded but free from much of the administrative burdens that traditional public schools have—are growing in number across the nation, giving families an option beyond traditional public schools. Currently, all but 10 states have charter school laws.
Technology is also expanding education opportunities. In nearly all 50 states, students are signing on to virtual education. In 2010, nearly 1.5 million students took an online course. As an example, the Florida Virtual School provided courses to nearly 100,000 students during the last school year. Students can use online learning to supplement their regular school courses or take all of their classes online. This means students can go at their own pace and take classes at the time and place most convenient to them. Instead of being limited to the classes provided by their public schools, these students have an array of courses from which to choose. For some students, online learning not only may enhance their education but can mean the difference between graduating and failing.
Homeschooling is another option that increasing numbers of parents across the nation are using to educate their children. Current estimates suggest that nearly 2 million children are currently homeschooled. This option gives parents the freedom to choose their children’s curriculum, go at the children’s pace, and monitor their children’s progress.
Whatever the method, school choice means increased options for families and better educational options for students. Moreover, it means giving students from all walks of life more opportunity for an excellent education and future.
Yet, although school choice is expanding, it is unfortunately still quite limited. Today, too many of the nation’s students are left in underperforming schools.
But there is no reason this must remain the case. As National School Choice Week reminds us, there are policymakers, grassroots organizers, and parents across the country who are catching the vision of what school choice can mean for the future of children in classrooms across the nation.