If there is one thing all parents can agree on, it’s that they want their children to have an excellent education — one that prepares them for success in their lives and careers. Yet any parent knows that is easier said than done.
Every child is unique, with individual learning needs and skill sets. Yet, as a nation, we still need to provide access to an array of educational options as diverse and multifaceted as the students in our classrooms.
For millions of families, their neighborhood public school — often one that has educated generations and served as a community landmark — is precisely what the doctor ordered. Local public schools are the backbone of our society and play a crucial role in building the future for the next generation of leaders.
For other families, the school closest to home may not be suitable for their children. They may have a student needing support that the public school cannot or does not offer, have personal beliefs that conflict with the traditional school curriculum, or seek an alternative model like Montessori, expeditionary, or blended learning that they believe fits the children’s learning style better .
Whether it’s because they cannot afford after-school programs, unfortunately they don’t have access to transportation, or they don’t have viable choices nearby, families all over the country lack access to options that could make a world of difference for their kids.
Access to a diverse array of educational options is more important now than ever following a pandemic that, understandably, devastated students of all ages — it drove massive learning loss across the country, especially for children of color. That once-in-a-generation challenge has had a domino effect on all aspects of learning, and children need innovative pathways that help ensure they will graduate able to read, write and do math at grade level. Their parents and caregivers know their time in school is limited and want the opportunity to explore options that can inspire their child toward success.
Now is the time to empower parents to choose the education that is the best fit for their child. For some, this will mean traditional district schools; others will choose public charter schools; some families will want to send their children to private religious schools; and some will want to explore non-traditional learning models.
That is precisely how the system should be — education is most effective when school models serve their families.
Nearly a dozen states have taken a vital step toward empowering learning wherever it suits kids best — offering families money to spend on a more individualized education that will better help their child succeed.
These programs supplement traditional public schools and help elevate learning models that work for kids because when parents can choose the best education option for their child, it helps spur innovation across the board. In public and private schools, as well as at tutoring and after-school programs, educators are all working to identify and adopt new tools and pedagogies that provide the best education possible.
Our schools thrive when parents are invested in their children’s learning and take an active role in their academic lives, and the best way to make that happen is for states to engage families, listen to them, and trust them to know what is best for them children.
Supporting traditional public schools and rooting for their success is not in conflict with a steadfast belief that more options for parents are the key to ensuring access to a suitable educational model is the best path forward. Likewise, supporting robust private school choice does not color the fact that traditional public schools play a critical role in helping tens of millions of kids learn daily.
Educators, community leaders and elected officials must stand with parents in the belief that a diverse range of options can co-exist and deliver an excellent education for every child. That shared understanding should guide our approach to education policymaking and funding.
Craig Hulse is the executive director of yes.every.kid, an organization that seeks to transform K-12 education. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.