Stop politicizing a personal school choice (RedefinED)

January 28, 2020
Click here to read at RedefinED

Editor’s note: National School Choice Week, held every January, shines a spotlight on effective education options for children including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies and homeschooling. NSCW president Andrew Campanella, whose latest book, “The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child” published Jan. 21, shares his thoughts on how school choice cannot and should not be contained within a political ideology.    

If you watch how cable news talks about education – in the rare case that it does so – you likely think school choice is a hot-button political issue. This has more to do with the way the media cover stories than with school choice itself.

School choice isn’t a predictable, one-sided political statement; it’s a prudential decision people make every single day.

This year, during National School Choice Week, let’s remember that parents are making educational choices for their kids every day. Those choices aren’t based on political premeditation or activism; they are based on work schedules, life goals and personal needs. These choices aren’t easily clumped together under the category of vouchers or charter schools. They span every iteration of family situation.

Imagine the Smith family moves to Miami, Florida, evaluates the different schools available to them, and chooses to enroll their daughter in the nearest neighborhood public school. That is, quite literally, a school choice, and it may be the perfect choice for the Smiths.

Now maybe the Owens family moves into the same neighborhood in Miami and chooses to use intra-district open enrollment so their son can attend a nearby public school known for its engineering program. Again, that is a school choice.

Perhaps the Delgado family moves in one door down from the Smith family and uses their district’s magnet option for their kids to attend a school focused on the performing arts. That, too, is a school choice.

These three different school choices, all in the realm of free, public education, could each be prompted by unique, personal circumstances. Maybe it’s a medical need, a safety concern, or a learning style that is not being met. Whatever it is, at heart, parents are motivated by the personal needs of their learner and the health of their family unit.

That’s not politics, that’s personal.

Traditional public schools. Private schools. Public magnet schools. Public charter schools. Homeschooling. Online schools. These are all school choices, and the result is that there are more choices and options available for families today than at any other time in history, with most of those choices being completely free for families to access.

The point is, school choice is practiced in so many ways. Of course, like all personal decisions, school choice intersects with the public sphere and cannot be thought of in total isolation. But it remains first and foremost a personal decision that every family makes for itself. Recognizing that is the best and most respectful way to enter the dialogue.

Politicizing a personal decision isn’t going to improve discussions on school funding, quality schools, and what the future of education should look like. Clickbait is fun, cancel culture gripping, and it’s all too easy to wade into reductionist attitudes about school choice and a sea of other issues. But we can do better.

Families are choosing schools all the time. And the more intentional and invested they are in doing so the better. During National School Choice Week, let’s acknowledge the diverse ways that school choice is really practiced rather than dismissing the words to just one or two segments.

Let’s not politicize the personal decisions parents make in pursuit of their children’s happiness.