Just The Ticket for Students
January 26 to February 1, 2014, was National School Choice Week, an event celebrating educational opportunity. Schools, organizations, and individuals offered 5,500 events independently planned as nonpartisan and nonpolitical public-awareness efforts to “spotlight the need for effective education options for all children.”
As part of the 2014 School Choice Week celebration, Choice Media released a 40-minute documentary, The Ticket: Stories of School Choices & Quality Education. The movie addresses the various ways American parents are taking control of their children’s education. It is presented in a whistle-stop tour format, crossing the nation to report ways education reform is helping students learn. (SchoolChoiceWeek.com)
The first stop, in Los Angeles, California, examines the “parent trigger.” Parents have the legal right to “fire” the school district if 51% of parents whose children are in a failing school sign a petition to start over. Despite opposition from sources including the teachers union, parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in the Mojave Desert “triggered” a new school for their children after more than six years of failing student test scores.
In Topeka, Kansas, The Ticket interviews homeschooling families whose children are successfully negotiating academic, social, sports, and enrichment programs, including city sports teams, learning co-ops, orchestra, strings, band, and debate clubs. These students and parents are happy with how education is happening in their families. One young woman will graduate from high school with an Associate of Arts degree and a young man interviewed has enough free time after completing his academic day to work as a waiter, earning money he can use for college.
In Kansas City, Missouri, a city long fraught with education turmoil, better education for public school students is still a future hope, according to The Ticket. Surrounding school districts are willing to accept students who wish to transfer from failing schools using the Inter-District Choice Program that was upheld in 2013 by the state Supreme Court. But Kansas City schools are only willing to give accepting districts $3,000 per student, far below what is needed to adequately educate. Across the state in St. Louis, Missouri, 25% of students have fled the city district and 2,600 students are attending better schools in the surrounding counties.
The documentary claims that enrollment at charter schools has doubled over the past five years in Chicago, Illinois. On recent NAEP tests — the U.S. Dept. of Education’s “nation’s report card” — 8th-graders in Chicago’s traditional public schools score 20% proficient in math, 21% proficient in reading, and only 7% proficient in science. Of the 400,000 Chicago public school students, 52,000 students have chosen the option to attend a charter school. Parents and students choosing charter schools in Chicago use a lottery and there is open enrollment, so criticism that the success of charters is due to “cherry-picking” students seems unfounded.
Money follows the student in Cleveland, Ohio, so students can use vouchers to enroll in private schools when the family could not otherwise afford the option. The Ticket stopped at Saint Martin de Porres High School where students attend class four days a week and work a real job on the fifth day. In this “corporate work study program,” students are grouped in teams, and “each team fills one full-time equivalent job in a standard Monday-Friday business week schedule.” This gives students real-world job experience along with their academic endeavors. Public schools often complain that vouchers are not fair to public schools. But vouchers don’t take money away from anyone; the school doesn’t get the money but they also don’t get the student to educate.
In Erie, Pennsylvania, The Ticket reports on cyber-charter schools, the fastest growing form of education. Students and their parents choose this option for a variety of reasons: an accelerated student who was slowed down by regular public school; a slower learner needing more time to master subjects; or possibly a student who has been bullied. The school presented in Erie is the 21st Century Charter Cyber School, which is a “school of mastery”; students must understand concepts before moving ahead in any subject. They are encouraged to resubmit work to improve their understanding. Teachers interviewed feel they can offer more individual attention than at a traditional public school. One student reported that at her old school she would raise her hand with a question but the teacher often didn’t call on her before the class was over. Online she gets a fast and sure response from her teacher. Sometimes there are clubs and field trips offered in this new model of learning in order to give students a more full school experience.
The Ticket visits Hope Hall, a private school in Rochester, New York, that accepts students with learning disabilities but without behavioral issues. At public school these students would have too much learning ability for special education classes, but would not perform well in a regular classroom. Hope Hall attempts to break down “I can’t” barriers, find the talents of students, and help them plan for their futures. One girl said that at Hope Hall she no longer feels “pushed along.” The school gets no public funding and survives by tuition and donations from supporters.
The Goldwater Institute reports that, “Two lawmakers in Washington recognized School Choice Week by making better options for students a priority for the federal government. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Scholarships for Kids Act, which would give some 11 million students access to better schools.” (1-30-14)
Although parents frequently face formidable hurdles when they want to make decisions about their children’s education, school choice is most advantageous for students because they and their parents will choose the option that will best help them learn and flourish. School choice adheres to the principle that parents will make the right decisions for their children. As an additional advantage, the Goldwater Institute reports that: “Nearly all of these school choice options come at a lower cost than traditional public school.” With education costs skyrocketing, the cost-effectiveness of school choice may be the tipping point that will someday give all parents the option to decide their children’s educational future.