The Burden of School Choice

Storm Trooper Family

I went to the elementary school in my neighborhood. So did my sister, my brother, and all of our neighbors. We went to the same middle school. When we were done with middle school, we all went to the same high school.

I recently bought a new smartwatch. I researched what models had the features I needed. I decided I didn’t want one with a screen so I settled on a hybrid watch. I watched for sales, did my research, found the right time and, finally, I bought my watch.

I have three children. All are boys. Each one of my boys are eager learners. They are strong-willed like their mom and rule-breakers like their dad. One is sensitive. Another has a problem with his temper. My youngest thinks he is the funniest boy alive (and he is!).

All of my boys are set up to go to the elementary school near our neighborhood. Same school as their brothers and all of their neighbors. At one point, our neighborhood school was not the right place for my son.

What happens when a school doesn’t fit our child? Where do we turn? What do we do?

I am a public school advocate. I lead a charter school. I do not believe that this is a conflict. I believe that in our system we should not tell our families that they only have one choice. Is it right that parents have more options for watches than they do for elementary schools? Our families know their children. As educators, we focus and provide specific supports for all of our students. There are times, however, when the traditional public school program does not match the individual needs of a student.

At the end-of-the-year conference in Kindergarten, my oldest son’s teacher whispered to me (as if there were microphones listening in the room). She told me that my son needed a different placement for first grade. She said that with his sensitive spirit, he needed more time in a smaller environment.

I was stuck. My son was supposed to go to the school in our neighborhood, same as his brothers and his neighbors. I taught in a public school. I fight for public schools. What kind of public school advocate would I be if I pull out my own child? I love all teachers and I believe in the work that they do.

After extensive debate with myself and discussions with my family and friends, I listened and I did what was recommended. She was absolutely right! That next year, my son was enrolled in a small program. He was in a classroom with a 14:1 student to teacher ratio and received extensive one-on-one support. This program made the world of difference. My son started to gain confidence, he started to read, and he began to learn.

I eventually integrated my son back into the public school. There came a time where there were more supports available and, frankly, the cost of a private school wasn’t sustainable. We love his public school and his teachers and the families. He gets great support and he is, right now, enrolled in the best school program for him.

I believe that our children’s schools are just that — ours. We are the ones that fight for what is right for our students. This fight and these decisions are anything but easy. School Choice does not require one school to be better than the other. It means there are a variety of high-quality options for our families. I have visited hundreds of classrooms over my years in education. I have yet to see a school that doesn’t have passionate teachers doing fantastic things for kids. As parents we are, however, the ones that know what is best for our student. It is up to the educators to keep working to provide the best education we can for the students in our care.

It is time that the “free market” vision of school choice is adjusted. After all, our schools are not watches. All schools should collaborate and work together towards the good of all children, understanding and working to find the best placement for each child. Our educational system needs to stretch beyond the borders of districts and schools so that we are able to provide services and supports to each individual child and family.

When it does come time to make those choices for your child, it is okay to find alternate options. Ask questions and research. Be brave to do what feels right. It may not have two-day shipping like a watch would, but you will be able to find an option for your child that fits them and their needs.