The new year will likely be a defining moment for public education. President-Elect Donald Trump has selected a nominee for Secretary of Education in Betsy DeVos that has a history of supporting school choice and non-public school vouchers. In my own state of Florida, school choice and vouchers has been part of the discussion for years and will continue to be so. What that looks like at a local school level remains to be seen.
I can understand the attractiveness of expanding school choice for parents. Where to enroll your child can be a complex decision, influenced by numerous social, economic, religious, and philosophical factors. Parents want what is best for their children, and charter and private schools can be the answer.
School choice has some negatives. Voucher programs take money away from already cash-strapped districts. Private schools do not have the same types of oversight. Charter schools have an inconsistent record of financial stability or improved student performance. And I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the numerous state and federal laws and regulations that govern these kind of types of choices (i.e. public money to private companies, separation of church and state).
I have the same concerns. However, I’d rather fight for something than against something. I believe public school districts and teachers should make their own choices, to adapt and make the changes necessary for our schools to be the schools of choice for parents. It’s time to take public schools back to the future by expanding and promoting existing, effective programs. What does that look like? Programs that put student needs first.
Teacher-Powered Schools. Schools that are student-centered, designed and run by teachers with the autonomy to make the best choices for students.
Project-Based Learning. Student learning fueled by hands on experience with real-world problem solving.
Community Schools. School and community partnerships that provide support for academics, health, and social services.
Hybrid Instruction. A blend of traditional face-to-face instruction and online self-directed learning.
Public schools have been given a gift, a forewarning about what’s to come and an opportunity to change for the better for our kids. I’m not naïve enough to think it will be easy or fast, but it can and has been done. The sooner the better.