5 Reasons Why School Choice is Important Right Now

Though K-12 education has not registered as a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail yet, it remains a hot issue at the state and local level. In just eight weeks we’ll elect officials who, from the district to national levels, will set the education agenda and make critical decisions for our children for years to come. This year also marks a decade of Education Next’s groundbreaking public opinion polling that has seen Americans grow in their understanding of nuanced educational issues, some of which – like the opt-out movement and Common Core – didn’t even exist when the research began ten years ago.

The education community has the rare opportunity, and some might say urgent responsibility, to share the lessons we’ve learned before the nation casts its votes in November. I’m thrilled that Education Next is helping to foster that discussion with a convening this Friday, September 16 in Washington DC – where a host of education researchers, change agents, community- and thought-leaders, and policy makers will discuss what we’ve learned about the country’s views on K-12 education over the past decade.

I will have the privilege of joining an esteemed panel focused on school choice. As president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, I’ll be lending insights into ways charters and choice have strengthened our public education system – as well as what we’ve learned in the process.

Taken from the 2016 Education Next poll.
Taken from the 2016 Education Next poll.

In anticipation of this robust discussion around educational choice, here are my top 5 reasons why school choice is so important right now:

1. Parents Want Choice. A new national survey finds that the majority of parents want public charter schools as an option for their child’s education. The survey reveals that the idea of allowing parents to choose which public school their child should attend, rather than assigning students to a school based on where they live, has taken hold. More than 80 percent of parents surveyed support allowing parents to choose their child’s public school, and more than 70 percent favor having a charter school open in their neighborhood.

2. Choice Leads to Student Success. Across the country, charter public schools are serving a higher percentage of students from low-income backgrounds than district-run public. Yet despite challenging circumstances, charter schools are helping disadvantaged students reach new levels of academic achievement. According to a 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, students enrolled in urban charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math per year and 28 additional days in reading compared to students in district schools. And school systems across the country – from Seattle to New York City – are seeing charter school students make gains that outpace their district peers.

3. Choice Empowers Advocacy. When states create new and better public school options, it doesn’t make sense to then limit the number of vulnerable students who can take advantage of them. That’s why a group of parents and students in Connecticut, with support from the nonprofit students’ rights organization Students Matter, filed a case last month in federal court challenging their state’s laws “that knowingly and actively prevent students from accessing even minimally acceptable public school options.” Families in New York and California have also gone to the courts to demand educational equality, and it was the tireless advocacy of charter school families in Washington state that convinced legislators to keep charter schools open. As more families make their voices heard, lawmakers are taking note.

4. Choice Births Innovation. When educators are given more autonomy to discover best practices, in exchange for greater accountability, students win. In his new book The Founders, education reporter Richard Whitmire shares the history of the top 20 percent of high-performing public charter schools, and the visionary educators who did whatever it took to create innovative schools that works for students. You can read the inspiring founding story of the IDEA charter network here.

5. Choice Strengthens Communities. The idea of a public school acting as a community pillar isn’t unique to district-run schools. Now more than ever, charter public schools are integrating support services to address issues ranging from health to poverty. Many charters are functioning as local hubs to connect student and families with a host of services beyond education, including social and health services. Any public educational option that contributes to the holistic well-being of its students and their families is worthy of our support.

— Nina Rees

Nina Rees is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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