School Choice Puts Children Back at the Center of Education Reform

Juan Williams

As a black child brought to this country with an older brother and sister by a poor mother with only a fourth-grade education, I can personally testify that without strong schools (and a big push from my mother), my work as a writer and television commentator would not be possible.

It has been said: “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” Likewise, one child failing in school, especially your child, is a tragedy — but too often, because he or she is one of one million children failing in school, the tragedy becomes a statistic.

At the moment the data paint a picture of an entire generation of young Americans — white, black, Hispanic, from all areas of the country — being left behind a rising level of educational achievement around the globe.

As a journalist, I often think politicians don’t get it. That is why I was stunned with excitement when President George W. Bush stood up and declared that the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor children in public schools was unacceptable.

The jig is up for the self-interested teachers unions who have blocked long-overdue reforms to the public education system and condemned millions of students to lives of low-wage jobs and lack of opportunity.

Parents are on to this sham, and they are choosing to send their children to private and charter schools in record numbers. At these schools, free from union contracts, parents and children hold greater leverage to decide if the education offered meets their needs and if the quality of education is worth the money they are spending on the school.

That competitive environment fosters more innovative approaches to teaching children. The best approaches are taking root, and fewer children are being saddled with the “bigotry of low expectations.”

With more access to quality education, America’s children are better positioned to take advantage of all the economic opportunity our great country has to offer and to succeed as part of a global workforce filled with individuals who have the education and skills they need to compete with graduates of American schools.

As a well-known journalist and as a black American Democrat, I often find myself walking a lonely road as I advocate for giving students and parents more power through school choice, vouchers, and other instruments intended to achieve school reform.

The unions’ fear of losing control over public education has led them to vilify school reform efforts. With so much political static, it is easy to be distracted from the core need to improve schools for children right now.

That is why it is important to look at hard numbers about the poor state of American education. President Reagan did this back in the 1980s when he issued the report, A Nation at Risk. Today, the Index of Culture and Opportunity offers a similar call to action for anyone who wants to truly understand the importance of the school choice movement.

From 2000 to 2013 charter school enrollment increased by about two million students. These are two million children whose families felt the need to break away from their existing school in order to strive for a chance at the American dream.

From 2004 to 2014, the number of students enrolled in private school choice programs increased by about 257,000.

Charter school enrollment and private school choice participation have made impressive progress over the past decade, each rising by more than 200 percent.

As my fellow school reform advocate Virginia Walden Ford explained, “More than 300,000 children are attending private schools of their choosing thanks to options like vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, and education savings accounts.”

Though we may disagree in other areas of public policy, I proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends at The Heritage Foundation in the fight for school choice, because it is the civil rights issue of our time.

The school choice indicators tracked by the Index of Culture and Opportunity move away from the educational paradigm that treats children like statistics to a more accurate, more productive, more humane way of measuring and improving education.

It treats children not as mere data points but as thinking, feeling, and multifaceted people — each with a unique, God-given potential that deserves the chance to flourish.

Juan Williams is a political analyst and co-host of The Five for Fox News Channel and a columnist for The Hill.

Next Up in the Index:

High School Graduation Rate

© 2015 by The Heritage Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity

The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America

Heritage Foundation

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A think tank devoted to the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity

The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America

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