Choice: Is it really a choice?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When it comes to the idea of school choice, my thinking is typically more dissenting than my colleagues here at Dialogue with Pedagogues, and even more, within my colleagues in the 2023 cohort of Vanderbilt’s EdD program. And make no mistake, it’s not for disbelief or disdain of charter or private school options. I’ve worked with wildly educated, innovative, and committed thinkers at high-quality charters — I’m looking at you Alliance Charter in LAUSD. My Mom spent 95% of her career in a private high school, and the community there, and the desire to live out a very open set of faith-based practices in their classrooms was bar none.

So, I’m not opposed to choice. I just have a few thoughts every time we spend valuable time discussing the role of choice in America’s education system.

The school choice movement fails to address that not everyone has choice.

  • Private schools often have an associated tuition — which inevitably creates a socio-economic barrier to many. If you can’t afford the private school, is it really a choice for you?
  • 25% of America’s K-12 population is served in rural America. The Charter School Center indicates 16% of the charter school enrollment is in “rural” areas, but then goes on to indicate 85% of that enrollment is within the “rural fringe,” or in other words, just on the outskirts of well-populated cities.
  • Movements to provide vouchers fail to recognize that the price of tuition not covered by a voucher is still the responsibility of a family.

The school choice movement has had historically bad actors.

Of the student attending public school in America (nearly 54 million), 93% are still served by a traditional public school.

  • We should learn from our school choice counterparts, and heck, we can even grow choice options, but the salient fact still remains: a large portion of the students in this country attend a traditional public school.

So my bottom line is simply this: choice has a place in the education landscape.

But choice is not our sole solution.

Our national conversations, and especially our institutional conversations — whether higher ed, foundations, or political platforms, should take heed.

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