Offering Alternatives to Your Parents

By Douglas B. Reeves

Parents love choices. Proliferating brands, color palettes, communication media, and electronic options are only a few of the manifestations of our collective desire to be in charge of our choices. Not surprisingly, board members now face a significant increase in demands for school choice. Some of this increase in demand is fueled by federal funding incentives for charter schools; the recent $4 billion Race to the Top program gave preference to states with the least restrictive charter school legislation. A growing number of states permit parents to choose schools outside traditional attendance boundaries, and a few are permitting vouchers.

However, charters and vouchers are not the only ways for school systems to provide choices to stakeholders. This is important, because the demand for choice is propelled not just by political trends but by human nature. Parents often like expressing their choices of teachers, curriculum, assessment methods, homework, textbooks, and extracurricular activities, to name a few areas with increasing parental involvement.

While not every school system permits these choices, a growing number of schools are using choice to better engage parents and students. Board members and other education leaders should consider making the point that it is possible for parents to have meaningful choices without losing students to charter schools or private schools supported by publicly funded vouchers.

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