Editor’s note: This commentary from Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, appeared today on The 74.
In the midst of sudden school closures and a wild election season, many families heard about school choice for the first time this past year, though it’s been around for decades. I ardently wish the circumstances had been different, but I do believe that heightened national awareness about educational choice is good news.
This Jan. 24 to 30 marks the 11th annual National School Choice Week celebration, though it’s the first time we focus exclusively on virtual, drive-in and at-home events. But this much hasn’t changed: As a public awareness effort, our goal each year is to reach new people with our message that every child deserves a great education to match his or her unique needs, talents and interests.
We invite and welcome everyone into the fold. Last school year, for instance, we reached out to every school in the U.S. through emails, faxes, mailings, and phone calls, and nearly 26,000 schools of all types participated. That’s about 16 percent of all schools in the U.S., all celebrating National School Choice Week.
Over the last 11 years, we have learned a lot about what helps families understand school choice and be empowered to choose schools that make their children’s lives better. Our participants remind us that there is room in our communities and, in fact, within families, for different types of schools, depending on individual students.
Traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online schools, private schools and homeschooling all contribute to the diversity, variety and opportunity in K-12 education today.
Parents do not view school choice as a zero-sum game. They know that different types of learning environments can and should coexist in a community because one type of school will never work for every child.
Moms and dads also do not use school choice as a catchall term for specific policies, legislation or proposals. It is how they describe the incredibly personal decisions they make for their children’s well-being. It is this definition that National School Choice Week embraces.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to hear parents’ perspectives over the louder voices in the broader debates over K-12 education. Families often say the jargon, political rhetoric and judgments about others’ choices are deeply unhelpful when they just want what is best for their kids and care little about political squabbles and arcane policies.
That is one reason why, for example, I cringe whenever I hear a supporter of school choice paint our education system with a ridiculously broad brush and portray all traditional public schools as “failing.” This caricature is not only factually inaccurate, but it ignores the incredible work done by so many public school students, parents and teachers.
I am equally disturbed, however, when opponents of school choice portray the concept as wildly controversial or somehow ruinous to anyone. These disingenuous skeptics make these arguments only because nobody — especially parents — seriously believes that all children learn in exactly the same way and will succeed equitably in just one type of school.
We all want children to succeed, teachers to be rewarded and schools to be safe and strong. In these challenging times, let’s get out of parents’ way, provide them with the information they need and respect the decisions they make for their families.
We can do that best by celebrating great schools, regardless of their type, which is exactly what happens during National School Choice Week.