In all the debates, discussions, talks etc. about school choice it almost always comes down to issues about test scores, class size and of course freedom to choose.
All of those factors are important as they are the benchmark for what forces those opposed to school choice to swallow their pride and admit it works. The public policy battle has to be fought with the facts and also by the parents who want to make those choices for their kids.
I recently had a chance to visit Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington DC and had some time to spend with some of the students. Several of them took us on a tour of the school so we could see other students in their classes, interacting with other teachers and fellow students.
I also had a chance to listen to the stories of give students who attended. Several were able to be there, thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program providing payment for some of the tuition.
Archbishop Carroll High School is a true college prep high school. When we were talking with students, they were taking subjects such as physics, advanced math, bio-chemistry, etc. The students welcomed the challenge of the work and from what I observed, their teachers were truly invested in their students, pushing them to not just learn, but think.
The group I was with had some time to spend with five students as they told us about their experience attending the school. We heard how much they enjoyed along with some of the difficulties – one student had to take a bus each morning to catch the Metro and then take another bus to get to the school. Another student who lived in Maryland said it took him over an hour a day to get to school.
One word that I kept hearing from all the students that stood out among all others was, community.
The students expressed strong views about the “sense of community” in the school, mentioning both teachers and fellow students. They’re able to talk to their teachers who can give them more attention because of smaller class sizes and they had better relationships with fellow students because of the environment they were in and having the desire to succeed together.
Opponents of school choice often remark that one of the downsides is that a student might feel singled out at a private or parochial school after having been part of a public school for so long, but from the brief time I spent with these students, nothing could be further from the truth.