Schools: Do Parents Want ‘Good’ or More ‘Choice’?


The American public-school system is one of the pillars of our democracy,  funded by taxpayers—state, local and, for the past 15 years, federal governments. The money is allocated according to the number of children in each district that it is mandated to educate. Thus, each child enrolled in a public school is worth an assigned amount of cash. If parents opt to send a child to a private school, that’s fine, their taxes still go towards  public education because public education is  also seen as a public good. Its mission is to provide education for ALL children, including children with English as a second language, children with learning and physical disabilities.

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As a parent, what would you want from your child’s school? Where would you want your child to attend school if all schools were equally resourced? My choice, as a parent, would be to send my child to my neighborhood school. When my child reaches 9th grade, perhaps school choice would make more sense, because high schools often have specializations which match a child’s career interests and academic aptitude.

In the early grades, all public schools should offer the same standard of instructional quality for all children everywhere with the only differences related to location-not race, income or community. That ensures equitable educational experiences. In rural America, does school choice make sense for them? In poorer neighborhoods, school choice may always be a viable option for some parents, but why should sending my child miles away, to ride a subway or crowded bus, sometimes 2 or 3, be the only way to ensure that my child receives a good education? Is that not ridiculously inequitable at its core?

A parent should have the right to send their child to any school he or she feels aligns with their child’s particular academic, developmental, physiological  needs. Once again, when we afford every child a quality filled experience in our public school system, choice may be exercised. In financially disadvantaged neighborhoods, if we must consider the reality for so many families. For the most part, parents will have very limited choices, but to enroll their child in local schools. Unless relocating into a new area, children attend schools within their ‘zoned’ district. Sure there is school choice, but choice is only afforded to the more advantaged families.

The American Federation of Teachers enlisted Hart Research Associates to conduct an online survey, and polled parents- Hispanic, African-American, and whites on the ‘state of the schools’. Parents were asked a series of questions centered around their perspectives on public schools. When asked about school choice, overwhelmingly, parents indicated their preference for good quality neighborhood schools over school choice. The responses from the parents in the subject pool resulted in the identification of five themes:

1. Parents say public schools are helping their children achieve their full potential and expanding opportunity for low-income and minority children.

2. Parents want access to a good neighborhood public school much more than increased choice of schools. Their highest priorities for these schools are providing a safe and secure environment, developing their children’s knowledge and skills, and ensuring equal opportunity for all kids.

3. Parents worry about several trends in education today, including inadequate funding, excessive standardized testing, class size increases, cutting non-academic subjects, teacher turnover, and shifting resources from regular schools to charters and vouchers.

4. Parents disapprove of Betsy DeVos’ performance as Secretary of Education and reject her “choice” agenda. They express little confidence in either DeVos or Donald Trump as education leaders, instead looking to teachers, principals, and parent organizations for the right ideas for public education.

5. Parents’ education agenda focuses on investing in traditional public schools, with particular emphasis on expanding access to CTE programs, reducing class size, supporting struggling neighborhood schools, including art and music in curriculums, and providing health and nutrition services. They strongly oppose shifting resources from traditional public schools to fund either charter schools or vouchers.

Though this survey was not exhaustive of all parents’ opinions, the ‘randomly sampled’ participants were written as, “….national survey consisted of interviews with 1,200 public school parents (parents with children who attend a regular public school and/or a charter public school), and included subsamples of 233 African-American parents, 371 Hispanic parents, and 196 parents in major U.S. cities.”, it still serves as  an informative and very useful for education decision-makers. The people have spoken, including those non-descript ‘parents’. Was it a Freudian example or quite intentional omission of descriptor of the 196? African-American and Hispanic parents were identified in the subsample. Food for thought! 

I will leave you with these points to ponder, and consider as we move forward into the 21st Century in America. As an ABC show asks the audience, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”


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