The fundamental premise of our society is rooted in the freedom to choose; your stores, your media outlets, your church, your home, and your beliefs. Choice ultimately produces accountability and innovation, but to accomplish this it cannot be overburdened with regulations and government obstructions. Public charter schools, traditional schools, religious schools, and home schools all have a place in our education system. Respect for choice and fairness must play a role in moving our education forward.
Our schools can learn from one another, and our children should not be held hostage to failure. It seems inherently unfair for a student who cannot afford a choice in education to be deprived that choice by bureaucrats mandating an assignment to a failing school; and likewise, it seems unfair that those taxpayers who do make a choice should have to pay for it twice. Further, if they pay for it twice they should be able to share in a broader array of benefits. Example: Homeschooled students should have the opportunity to share in social activities (clubs, sports, etc.) offered in the public schools in their community.
Additionally, why can we not collaborate more? If a public charter school is doing great things with a key initiative or target population we should be able to share and cross train with a traditional public school that may have that need; and vice versa. We should reward this and encourage this approach. Example: KIPP Academy is sustaining high level positive results for a largely low-income student body. We could support an initiative where principals and or teachers in struggling traditional schools with similar populations can train for a week with KIPP professionals.
We need to think differently even within classic models. We need to increase local controls and flexibility for our traditional public schools. Mr. Tedesco led Wake County Schools to design one of the nation’s largest parental choice assignment plans in a traditional public system. All of Wake’s 165 schools are now a part of a carefully designed choice model. Parents can evaluate the needs of their family, the academic results of area schools, and the track record of leaders to select from among programming interests, special themed academies, calendar desires, geographic locations, and more. These schools can now compete more freely and benchmark against a variety of public charter schools and private schools. In the end, parents and students win.
Finally, as we expand choice we also need to be prepared to fix our traditional public schools. In NC we have 1.5 million students. We have a 100 charter schools with fewer than 40,000 students. In 2010, against the norm of almost all other traditional public systems in the state, John Tedesco voted to recommend raising the state cap on public charter schools as part of Wake’s legislative agenda. In 2011, the new General Assembly made that a reality.
While John supports these efforts, he understands that even if we could open 100 more public charters tomorrow (which will take several years for that number), at best we gain room for another 40,000 students? We will still have over 1.4 million children in traditional public schools; many of which are not getting the quality education they deserve to build their future and ours. School choice is a critical part of the equation to truly improve education in NC for all of our children, but it must be coupled with significant improvement in our traditional public schools as well or we will lose a generation of students just waiting.