What School Choice Means to Me

Last Sunday kicked off National School Choice Week 2015. School choice is what it sounds like: the ability to choose which school your child attends, regardless of school district or income.

Click here for more information about National School Choice Week

I consider myself very lucky. Both of my parents have a considerable income, giving me and my sister the means to attend the school that works best for us. However, this means that I grew up unaware of the fact that that was different for some. That some students have no say in what schools they may or may not attend was something that never crossed my mind. But it is true.

I spent all of kindergarten and grade school at the Montessori School of Northern Virginia, a small private school in Annandale. In accordance with the Montessori mindset, the students were treated as intelligent and given a good deal of freedom. The virtues of such a school differ greatly from those of traditional education. I know that I, for all my effort to adjust to my surroundings, would never be able to learn in an environment in which everybody is taught the same things at the same pace. There are many students who would greatly benefit from the Montessori education, as I have, but have no means to receive it. But, until I was nine or ten, I thought that every school was like mine. Nobody told me that there were people my age and older who were receiving a different type of education, and had no say in the matter.

Although I tended toward independence, and Montessori education suited me well, there are some who would have great difficulty learning, due to the lack of structure. Take my sister, Ava, for example. Throughout much of her first grade year, she struggled to grasp even the basics of reading and writing. Since she was so far behind her friends and peers, her daily life became a struggle with confidence issues. She began to see herself as someone who would never succeed. Even regarding athletic activities, in which she generally excelled, she was inclined not to try anything, for fear of failing. There was a brief period of time in which our parents considered sending her to a more traditional school, but when she was diagnosed with ADD, they knew that wouldn’t help. Upon searching for a school that would better suit her, our family discovered Oakwood School. Oakwood specializes in teaching children who need an alternative to the traditional style of teaching in order to succeed. Many of the students suffer from common disabilities such as ADHD or ADD.

Ever since she began attending Oakwood, Ava has been a much happier, more confident child. She’s developed a love of learning, and doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Above all, she is now able to respect herself. None of this could have happened if it weren’t for the simple fact that our parents can afford to send her to private school. There are many who find themselves in situations similar to Ava’s and are unable to take any steps to improve their positions.

That just shows how important school choice can really be. Being forced to attend a school based on where you live can not only hinder a child’s willingness to learn, but also his or her ability to learn. Being able to control your education doesn’t just help you, it also raises the quality of education.
It’s no secret that public schools carry a reputation. That reputation is that their quality of education is below that of private schools. In much of the country, that is true.

The reason behind that is easy to see; there’s no incentive for public schools to really teach their students. If one thousand students will attend your school, whether they get anything worthwhile out of it or not, then why should you worry about providing a good education? However, if you stood to lose those students to the school across town, wouldn’t you get your act together? Generally speaking, competition in business is simple: the higher the quality of your work, the more customers you attract. Schools are no different. But with the aspect of competition removed, schools have no incentive to perform.

Disallowing parents to choose which school their child attends is both illogical and unjust, but it is happening. However, this is changing, and school choice is becoming more common throughout the country. Today, over 308,000 students across the nation are reached by 51 different school choice programs. Although there are those who still lack the means to control their own education, more and more people are being given the chance to make their own decisions. This gives them opportunities they might never get otherwise. This gives them a choice. This gives them freedom.

— Annette
Annette is an 8th grader in Northern Virginia

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