Is quality education reserved for the wealthy and elite?
Do public schools make the grade?
Imagine you’re a single parent with a child who loves school and wants to be challenged and excel. You reside in a modest area where many people live paycheck to paycheck. The public schools in the region are listed in the bottom and are often labeled as a “failing school district.” What options do you have to give your children the very best education?
If you’re Lorelai Gilmore from the popular TV show Gilmore Girls you can sign a contract with your wealthy parents to pay for a private school in exchange for Friday night dinners. Or if you’re like Andrea Zuckerman from Beverly Hills 90210, you can use your grandmother’s address from a tiny apartment in the ritzy zip code while you make the long commute from a less known zip code.
I’m guessing these aren’t viable options for most people, and the latter can get you in trouble unless you’re in a Hollywood sitcom, but yet somehow they seem more probable than passing school choice policies.
In the fictional case of Gilmore Girls, wealth is what helps drive education and selects who will be the participants of elite schools. For decades, boarding schools and other private schools were exclusive for those families who could afford to go there. The term “legacy” meant guaranteed admittance and elevated prominence.
Sure, some scholarships and aid could be given to increase diversity, but even then a family needs to know about those options. Often failing school districts are home to low-income areas and minority communities. Instead of teaching to inspire thriving and accomplishing dreams, they hope to improve graduation rates and just get by.
I went to a public school in grades 4–12. Before that, I attended a private, Catholic school until my family converted to a non-denominational church. While I was younger when attending private school, the expectations were higher for me, I was treated as an individual, and there was more experiential learning. I had a few standout teachers in my public high school, mostly in English, so it’s no wonder that became one of my majors in college. But my overall experience was that the system fails its students. My district had many zip codes that incorporated the high school. It ranged from lower to upper-middle-class neighborhoods causing a great divide in personalities, home life, tax rates, and education needs.
I’ll admit, school choice has a bad reputation and negative brand. It gets pinned as some evil concoction to destroy public schools. Somehow those who strongly oppose school choice are the ones proclaiming that they are the biggest advocates for minorities and low-income families. Yet many in these communities have wanted to explore school choice because the public school system has failed them for decades.
Does everyone need to attend a charter school — no. But there should be a choice for families who either cannot afford or do not wish to live in a community with a 10-star public school system. A chance to learn about the possibilities in the world and options for careers or college that suit their particular passion and skillsets. You can get so lost in the public school shuffle. I didn’t attend half of my classes in high school. I was very involved with service projects and extracurriculars that were excused absences. Even with only attending half of my classes, I still had a 4.0. But did I learn how to study and formulate arguments and have educated discussions about topics we were reading — I think not.
I attended a private college for undergrad and a private university for graduate school. Both were ranked nationally. Many of my peers came from private schools or boarding schools, and their mindset was different. I knew I was smart but I was not yet articulated or could speak with confidence. My real-world experience lacked in comparison because my high school did not prepare me. But how could they? The majority of students had such a wide variety of needs there was no way a government-defined system could personalize and help. Even good teachers are bound by union rules and arbitrary regulations. To keep graduation rates up and help the most they could, curriculum and tests were not that rigorous.
So, where can parents turn when they feel like a public school isn’t able to meet their and their child’s particular needs and they lack an abundance of funds or family members to help? Here are a few examples of school choice:
1. Charter schools: Charter schools are independently run public schools. The difference is that charter schools are not bound by union rules and standardization. Curriculum at a charter can be creative and experiential while also having a smaller teacher to student ratio assuring specific attention.
2. School vouchers: Vouchers are a type of scholarship that allows lower-income families in failing school districts to apply to a private school — including religious ones. A current case in the Supreme Court will rule on whether vouchers must include religious schools.
3. Homeschooling: This setting typically is less formal than others and has very few pupils in the setting. Each state has its own regulations and can include whether parents must be certified and whether it must be a legal guardian who is the teacher.
4. Online learning: Ed-tech has allowed students to take classes and work with their teachers through a specialized curriculum online. These classes can be independent or in addition to traditional classroom settings and can also include either private or public schools.
Note that every state has varying options of school choice and different regulations and offerings for each. What is available in one state may not be the exact same or not available at all in another state. This is all the more reason to understand the needs in each state and tailor education appropriately.
Because everyone is a different learner, education cannot be one-size-fits-all as designed by someone in the government.
Looking at different needs, school choice can afford opportunities to underserved populations. As technology rises and there’s a push to open the doors for people to work in tech, schools can bridge the gap and develop a desire and passion for the industry. The only problem is that children who live in failing school districts may not have access to high-speed internet or computers. Some school districts do not prioritize budgets to include technology and high-speed internet. The families who comprise the district could also not be able to afford technology at home for their children to learn and grow these skills.
School districts believe that technology could be a key in education empowerment so much that they are willing to take on debt to provide it. This debt hurts the taxpayers and students — but in a smaller school, where students and families are choosing to attend and really want to be there, the odds increase that the tech will be appreciated and applicable to student success.
The notion of parents wanting a better option for their child’s education isn’t just for the fictional town of Stars Hollow. Presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, is a strong proponent of public schools and has been very critical of school choice initiatives that aim to help families living in a failing school district attend a different school. While her daughter attended public school, Warren wrote in one of her books that her son wanted high school to be a way to “reinvent himself” and that took place in a very affluent private school.
Warren’s son is like Rory Gilmore and got to have a life he dreamed of — yet Warren thinks parents should just get “more involved” and volunteer at their failing public school to make it better. I didn’t see good ‘ol Liz dishing out sloppy joe’s in public school to make it better. But not everyone has Warren’s wealth to reinvent and give their children a second chance.
Lying to get ahead in education isn’t just for TV shows and Andrea Zuckerman either. Many parents have used relative’s addresses or lied about their home addresses to have their kids get into a better school district. Lying to cheat the system isn’t just for lower, middle, and high schools either.
The “Varsity Blues” scandal showed that parents were paying to have SAT scores and college admissions look the other way to get their kids into college. Schools like Yale, Stanford, and USC all found errors in their admissions practice. The question remains: should you be able to buy your kids into an earned spot from a lower-income student?
The nation stands united that it was wrong for wealthy elites to buy their way into college and rig the system because it took away the opportunity from a deserving student. Yet, the same people are not offended that low-income students are deprived of the opportunity to receive a curriculum that suits them because of their parent’s income bracket. It seems the pattern in education is that money talks — whether illegally or legally — yet options like school choice are deemed the “bad guy” and given false and negative attributions.
USC undoubtedly has the worst reputation in the scandal with Lori Loughlin and her daughters at the center of the controversy. Olivia Jade even posted videos joking about how she didn’t want to be in college anyhow as she already was a successful social media influencer. But for those students who don’t have rich parents to buy their way and ride their coattails of fame into the influencer industry, the students who want to get an education so that they can have a better life than what they were given and to end the cycle of poverty, where is their chance?
Their chance could be found in one of the school choice options.