By Peter Franzen, Director of Development
Supporters of parental choice gathered in Jersey City, NJ last week to share information about progress being made across the country to put educational decisions for children in the hands of parents. While I was not able to attend, I watched speeches from the conference as they were posted online like this one by journalist Juan Williams.
Williams, who authored Eyes on the Prize: America Civil Right Years – 1954 to 1965, approaches the issue of parental choice from a civil rights perspective. Near the beginning of his remarks, Williams talks about the growing school choice movement saying that it is drawing in people from all political, social, economic and racial backgrounds. My experience at the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri supports Williams’ claim that the issue is gaining traction among a diverse cross section and increasing numbers of Americans.
When I arrived in Missouri in 1991 it was to participate in a year of volunteer work after college. I thought I was coming here to eradicate poverty and help children succeed. By the time that first year was over, I understood a thing or two about the enormity of the problem and now, 20 years later, I realize I was going about it the wrong way. Instead of eliminating poverty first, I have come to realize that if we can educate children, they will have more of the tools for getting themselves out of poverty as adults.
Twenty years ago school choice sounded to me like it would it would undermine the very foundation of education in America. Now I have come to believe that unless we can reimagine the educational structure in America we risk condemning millions of young people every year to a life without a quality education, limited options and unmet potential.
People who think we can keep plugging along developing new curriculums and new models for educating children are doing good work, but missing the boat. If nothing else, our experience should have taught us that one size does not fit all. We accept that premise in nearly every aspect of American life except in how we educate our children. Choice today is, for the most part, reserved for families with the means to avail themselves either by moving to a better school district or by paying tuition.
Traditional public schools are so entrenched in our commonly accepted view of education that many people seem unwillingly to even discuss a different future. I say we must re-imagine education in the 21st Century and that all aspects of the education structure be on the table for consideration. Creating a policy environment in which parental choice plays a role will mean that parents can decide what is the best educational option for their child. When parents send their children to the highest performing schools and the lowest performing schools are closed, children will be getting a better education and valuable resources will not be squandered.
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