Newly appointed Department of Education executive Betsy Devos has promised an additional assault on public schools through a school of choice expansion initiative. Schools of choice allow students to determine which school within the resident district they will enroll as well as allowing non-resident students to enroll in a district other than their own. Public schools will need to consider alternative measures that will attract parents back to their school district.
According to the article, Public schools step up fight to win back charter students, public schools have successfully adopted alternative measures to reenroll the students of parents who opted to enroll their child in a school of choice. For example, the Upper Bucks Public School District superintendent decided to build a new dance studio, to enhance the drama program with a “black box” theater, and a bare-bones performance space to compete with the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts. This new addition will help the public school district save $250,000 per year in tuition reimbursements for 17 students. Additionally, Quakertown Community Public Schools spends approximately $2 million on students who choose to attend a school of choice.
A school of choice has a significant impact on the public schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the start of the 2015-16 school year in New Jersey, an estimated 42,000 students attended a school of choice. In Pennsylvania, there were nearly 135,000, or 65,000 more than in 2007-08. Much of the 97 percent increase occurred in the Philadelphia region. Meanwhile, in the same period, the amount of money that Pennsylvania districts paid to schools of choice to educate those students rose even faster — by $865 million to $1.5 billion, a 139.3 percent jump. Public schools can only reverse this trend by first investigating the reasons that parents choose to enroll their students in a school of choice.
Why do parents choose a school of choice rather than a public school?
The preference for a school of choice rather that a public school is born out of the dissatisfaction with educational quality. Schools of choice are being created for students by parents and other concerned adults to seek an alternatives to the traditional public schools. These alternatives include an alternative vision, serving a special population, or to gain autonomy from state or district regulation.
A school of choice supposedly provides parents and students with a practical alternative to public schools without having to pay tuition. It is reported that schools of choice shift responsibility to parents to select schools that reflect their own preferences and meet the learning needs of their children. The belief is that parents, when given a choice, will withdraw their children from poorly performing public schools or schools that are unresponsive to their needs, thereby generating pressure for higher performance and responsiveness in all schools. The key to attracting students back to a public school lies within the decision of the parent and this is where the process must begin.
Public schools must begin with an assessment of their community and then an assessment of their school. Many of the parents who choose to send their children to a school of choice are also a product of a public school. It is impossible to attract parents if they believe that a high school education in a public school did not help them. For example, if a parent is a high school graduate and the only job that they were able to attain is that of a manual worker then they will believe that public education is insufficient. The school must evaluate the educational outcome for the parents in the community as well as the process that parents have had to endure.
Next, the public school must develop a curriculum that will ensure that all children will attain a higher employment status as a result of a public school education. The school must also ensure that students are not plagued by disproportionate discipline. Finally, a public school can compete with a school of choice by guaranteeing a safe and educationally productive school environment.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
The Raccelerate Phenomenon
Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
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