The freedom-enhancing, life-improving power of school choice is more than a theory for me. It’s more than a talking points memo or teleprompter speech. Unlike many of the politicians paying lip service to National School Choice Week this week, the issue of expanding educational opportunity and freedom for all is something I live, breathe, practice and witness every day.
My mother was a public school teacher who taught in a majority-minority district in New Jersey for more than two decades. She and my father worked hard to put their own children in a mix of public and private Catholic schools. My own two children have been enrolled in private schools, religious schools and public schools. After a great deal of research, we moved from the East Coast to Colorado to escape the corrupted, dumbed-down curriculum of an overpriced private girls’ school.
Life lesson: It’s not just government schools that are the problem. Many supposedly “elite” schools indulge in the senseless pedagogical fads that infect monopoly public schools.
Every family in America deserves maximized, customized choices in education. It is the ultimate key to closing that “income inequality” gap the politicos are always gabbling about. Yet, the White House and Democrats beholden to public school unions and their money are the ones blocking the school choice door.
We were blessed to find a community of parents and public school educators in Colorado Springs who embrace high standards, academic excellence and strong character education for students of every race, creed and class. Competition in the secondary-school marketplace provided a desperately needed alternative for educational consumers who wanted more and better for their kids.
For the past four years, our kids, now 13 and 10, attended a high-achieving public charter school that caters to a truly diverse student body.
Our 13-year-old is now in 8th grade at the charter school. This year, we opted to homeschool our youngest. We cobbled together a 5th-grade curriculum with excellent materials from the Calvert homeschool series, Memoria Press and classic Saxon Math. Another nearby public charter school offers a homeschool collective once a week.
Family participation is not an afterthought. It’s the engine that drives everything. The dedicated parents, grandparents, foster parents and legal guardians I’ve met in the charter school movement and homeschooling community see themselves as their children’s primary educational providers. Not the U.S. Department of Education. Not the White House. Not GOP politicians cashing in on top-down “education reform.”
After several years of educational satisfaction, however, we’ve encountered another sobering life lesson: There is no escape, no foolproof sanctuary, from the reach of meddling Fed Ed bureaucrats and cash-hungry special interests who think they know what’s best for our kids.
Big-government Republicans such as Jeb Bush and flip-flopping Mike Huckabee pay lip service to increasing school choice and supporting charter schools, private schools and homeschooling. Yet, they have been among the loudest GOP peddlers of the Common Core “standards”/textbook/testing/data collection regime thrust upon schools who want nothing to do with it.
“Alignment” with the new regime means mediocrity, mandates, privacy invasions and encroachments on local control and educational sovereignty. I’ve seen it in my daughter’s polluted math curriculum. We are not alone. The threat is not just in one subject. It’s systemic.
Derek Anderson, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., wrote to me last fall about the existential threat his charter school faces. “Ridgeview Classical Schools is a K-12 charter school that offers a classical liberal arts education to approximately 800 students. We were established in 2001, and we have generally been one of the top three schools in Colorado since opening,” he said. “Our most significant issue with Common Core and the PARCC exams is that we feel we will lose the autonomy and other protections granted to us when Colorado adopted its Charter Schools Act in 1994.”
As I’ve noted, PARCC is the behemoth, federally funded testing consortium (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that raked in $186 million through President Obama’s Race to the Top program to develop nationalized tests “aligned” to the top-down Common Core program. Anderson and informed administrators, educators and parents like him understand: “PARCC is truly the enforcement mechanism that will coerce schools into adopting the Common Core curriculum. We cannot do this. It is entirely against the mission and philosophy of our school.” It is, in short, sabotage. Anderson calls it an “almost existential dilemma. Our mission and philosophy are irreconcilable with Common Core’s.”
Homeschool mom of six and blogger Karen Braun of Michigan sees the threat to her choice, too. Her trenchant message: “True school choice allows a parent to choose any school that meets their child’s needs, not just those that adopt Common Core State standards and assessments.”
No fully funded school voucher system in the world can improve the educational experience if Fed Ed controls the classroom and homeschool room. Coerced conformity kills choice.