Kids Are Back to School. Why Don’t More of Them Have a Choice About Where They Go?

Someone is always complaining about schools—the media is full of stories about problems with the curriculum, safety, the mountains of homework, the one-size-fits-all approach to education. Still, those same critics often advocate for a one-size-fits all fix. Instead, educational opportunities should be as varied as the children who need them. This doesn’t just benefit kids; it also helps families and communities.

“School choice” is a broad term that refers to giving a family the freedom to choose the best school for their children. It can come in many forms—charter schools, vouchers, scholarships from tax credits, magnet schools, open enrollment, and homeschooling, to name just a few approaches. It is, essentially, a free market system for education, where families are the consumers. Currently, school choice is always available to families of means, as they have the ability to pay for private school or move to a better school district. At the same time, they are less likely to need another school, as wealthier school districts tend to have better outcomes for their students. This puts some children at a huge disadvantage from the start. It must be put right.

For kids, being in the right school can mean the difference between failure and success, dropping out and graduating, finding meaningful work and never reaching their full potential. A recent study found that only half of America’s high school students feel prepared for college. Recently, NPR ran a piece asking if colleges should get rid of algebra. They should—not because they’re giving up on teaching it (which is the reason given), but because students are supposed to be learning this in high school, not in college. American taxpayers are paying more than $600 billion per year on high school education, and half of the kids aren’t even prepared to do algebra when they graduate? Clearly, the system isn’t working.

Giving kids educational options does work. The average student participating in a school choice program fares significantly better in standardized testing and, true to the free market, even the traditional public schools end up showing improvement to keep up and maintain enrollment.

It’s not just the kids. Entire families benefit from being able to choose the right option because they aren’t spending their time fighting a misguided curriculum and increasingly politicized teachers. Perhaps, for example, you don’t agree that “Mathematics… have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property” and is, thus, a social justice issue. Maybe you think it’s just math. You wouldn’t be forced to spend your time fighting such nonsense or trying to understand what your child has been taught (or not taught) so you can fill in the gaps. With school choice, you could simply find a school that is the right fit for your family. If enough parents leave, the school will be forced to address these issues in order to keep enough students to remain open.

When kids and families thrive, these benefits create a ripple effect with positive results for the entire community. There are the obvious benefits: Better-educated students are more prepared to break generational cycles of poverty and later contribute to the economy as workers. School choice disproportionately serves low-income students and students of color, largely the same population of students who would otherwise find themselves in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” A recent study found that school choice is linked to decreases in criminal activity. Since school choice also serves so many students of color, natural desegregation occurs that otherwise might not happen in district schools without intentional intervention for that purpose, which has been shown to be less effective. School choice addresses all of these social issues while saving the taxpayers’ money.

Better for kids, families, communities. Increased freedom. Better for the bottom line. Nothing is a panacea, of course, but educational freedom is a good place to start.

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