The issue of school choice has been a hot button issue here in Ohio, especially since the expansion and changes of community (charter) schools in recent years. To be clear school choice is not simply charter schools: the idea of choice for youngsters’ education also encompasses home schooling and private schools. However, while home schooling and private schools have been around for a long time, the idea of a public charter school is still a new concept for most. Even using the phrase “public charter school” is a misnomer since in Ohio all charter schools ARE public schools, but many are still not aware of this fact. Regardless, the steps that the state has taken to increase school choice for students by expanding charter schools are great, even taking into account the need for some fine tuning in practices that is being shown by the state auditor’s office.
Expanding school choice can be simply looked at as expanding the marketplace in education. By expanding the marketplace the state is creating an environment where different approaches can be taken to education, where hopefully new best practices and methods can be explored. This expanded marketplace now contains competition: are you going to send you child to a traditional public school, a new charter school, the catholic school down the road, or maybe even home school them yourselves? You are going to pick what you think is the best option for your child and your family.
This expanded marketplace, with its competition for students will (and in many cases already has) lead to innovations. These innovations will lead to a better education for our children and their children. I recently visited a few charter schools in Denver, where different approaches to education were taken. These schools were also interesting because they not only served more low-income and minority students than the average Denver public schools, but they also were scoring higher on achievement tests on average than traditional public schools. It was a fantastic show of how charter schools can add to the educational experience by offering students a different choice from traditional public schools.
School choice, when done correctly can lead to great innovations in education as well as give students and families the choice of environments in which to learn. Of course there will be bumps in the road as can be seen in a few schools in Ohio today. However, the proof can be seen in other states such as Colorado that charter schools can improve the educational experience and academic results.