Opposition to School Choice is Driven by Dedication to Schools, Not Children

My oldest daughter is in 1st grade. That means just a few years ago, my wife and I had to decide where to send her to school. Initially, it was a foregone conclusion. There was the local public elementary school or the private offerings. Being unable to afford the latter meant public school it was.

Or should I say traditional public school. A charter school that reminded me of my classically focused elementary school opened its doors just in time for the oldest. She initially didn’t make it through the lottery system, but the waiting list was favorable. First, though, I had to convince my wife.

My wife grew up in traditional public schools. I spent my first 8 years in private school. These varying experiences influenced our opinions. Whereas I have nothing but fond memories of my elementary school, she also has nothing but fond memories of hers. Moreover, she’s a smart and accomplished woman; her public school education never prevented her from achieving her goals, even if she never hung out after school to fold origami with the priest who spent time in Japan. Add to it that our district is 3rd in the state with strong scores for college readiness and literacy and my case wasn’t strong.

But I persisted. I did my homework. I highlighted all the benefits I saw for our oldest. Ultimately, I offered flexibility. If it didn’t work out, our daughter would be young enough to transfer without suffering. My wife agreed to give it a shot and started purchasing uniforms. Since then, she’s become a huge proponent of our charter. She volunteers at lunch and recess. She helps the headmaster with grant-writing. There may have even been a few furious text messages during the Franklin Center’s AmplifySchoolChoice conference about whether or not our middle daughter had been overlooked during the sibling preference portion of getting the 2015 kindergarten classes organized. (She hadn’t. More uniforms are being ordered.)

In other words, it worked out well for us. Other parents gave it a shot, reached the opposite conclusion, and opted to return their kids to the traditional school system.

And that’s what’s important.

In the battles over schools, we sometimes get caught up in thinking our choice is the right choice. My private elementary school was great, so everybody should go to private school. Except this charter is working great for my kids, so charters all around. But my wife did well in her local school district, so maybe I’m sending solutions in search of a problem. And that’s ignoring all those I know who excelled or are excelling in homeschooling.

Which is the wrong way to look at it. The operative word in the phrase isn’t school, it’s choice. It is folly to discuss a particular type of school as a panacea. The true panacea is to give parents and families the flexibility to find what works for them.

There are myriad myths surrounding school choice, but the primary argument is that bureaucrats know better than parents. Parents aren’t involved enough to weigh the pros and cons of schools, to judge how effectively they’re educating their children. Best to do away with charters and vouchers. Best to protect the status quo.

Too bad the research doesn’t bear those opinions out. In fact, it disproves them. Education choice improves graduation rates, improves school districts on the whole, and increases parental satisfaction and involvement.

Opponents of education choice dispute these findings. They argue that education choice is really about stealth re-segregation, punishing teachers, or sneaking religion into the mix. But it’s not. School choice is about circling the wagons around the children instead of around the institutions. If you’re of the opinion that “all your children are belong to us,” then just be honest about it. But if you truly care about kids, then you won’t advocate shoving them into a one-size fits-all solution with a promise that even if it doesn’t fit them today, it will later. After they’ve graduated and moved on.