(Guest Post by By Kevin Hesla)
“Charter schools are public schools that have flexibility to meet students’ unique needs, while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.” As a charter school researcher, I have copied and pasted this sentence more times then I care to admit over the past five years. But in times like these, I think it is necessary to stop and reflect on what is truly important and unique about this movement.
As Jay P. Greene from the University of Arkansas points out in a recent podcast, the concept of public school choice has reached “escape velocity.” A movement that first gained popularity among low-income parents who were searching for a high-quality educational option is now a concept that the vast majority of parents, from all walks of life, embrace and support. And in 2017, parents don’t just want a single high-quality public school option—they want multiple high-quality public school options.
For parents in neighborhoods with failing district public schools, the concept of school choice is nothing less than a life changing opportunity for their children to receive a high-quality public education, prepare themselves for the demands of a rapidly changing economy, and pursue their dreams. For parents in neighborhoods with high-quality district public schools, school choice is an acknowledgement that district public schools (despite all of their tremendous benefits) do not work for every student. It is an acknowledgement that students are different, that they learn differently and are motivated by different things—and that district public schools are not able to meet the needs and passions of every student.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently commissioned a survey of parents from across the country and asked them if they favored or opposed the ability of parents and students to choose which public school they attend—regardless of where they live. The results demonstrate that the vast majority of parents (regardless of background) support public school choice:
- Race/ethnicity: 84 percent of Hispanic parents, 82 percent of Black parents, and 76 percent of White parents support public school choice.
- Income: 86 percent of low-income parents, 79 percent of middle-income parents, and 72 percent of high-income parents support public school choice.
- Party Affiliation: 81 percent of Democratic parents, 77 percent of Republican parents, and 76 percent of Independent parents support public school choice.
- Geography: 84 percent of urban parents, 77 percent of suburban parents, and 74 percent of rural parents support public school choice.
Despite all the current rhetoric, it is important to remember that parents across the county are overwhelmingly supportive of public school choice. This false dichotomy between district public schools and charter public schools is in no way helpful to the tremendously important discourse and debate on public education. And education (just like knowledge and economic growth) is not a zero sum game. A new high-quality public school option does not have to come at the expense of another public school option. The vast majority of parents support public school choice because public school choice provides benefits to all students. And all children should be given the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school that meets their needs and inspires them to dream big.
Kevin Hesla is the Director of Research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools