Never has the topic of school choice drawn so much attention from the media, politicians, educators, parents and concerned citizens across the country.
With the fire lit by the September release of Waiting for 'Superman' and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declaring education a top priority, the right to choose your child's educational home is the topic of conversation at parks, playgrounds and play dates everywhere.
School choice simply means every family should have the right to explore options regarding where their children attend school.
The debate, however, is far from simple.
Public school supporters don't want families to look outside their home district, believing children have quality public schools already in place in their neighborhoods. That said, many public school educators and administrators have admitted the system is not perfect and there is clearly room for improvement among professional development opportunities for teachers, fostering a strong home to school connection, and enhancing curriculum and standards.
Christie, however, has clearly stated his concerns about the impact the teacher's union has on public school education, saying "I am not going to make any commitments to the teacher's union to do anything until they do something that's other than in their own self interest."
Critics of the public school system believe there are too many schools that continue to receive local, state, and federal funding despite low graduation rates and poor student performance on standardized tests.
School choice advocates are armed with facts and figures to support the case that families must have options. Even the trailer for Waiting for 'Superman,' which follows five charter school hopefuls, is stacked with statistics, aiming to put the current state of education in perspective. One statistic states that among 30 developed countries, the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science but first in confidence. This is surely meant to startle parents and educators alike as the film highlights the struggle parents in failing school districts face every day: How to get their children what they need without breaking the bank in private school tuition, which is simply not an option for many families.
The website www.schoolchoice.org has emerged as a go-to source for supporters of school choice. There is a link "Who's In," which highlights organizations and individuals supporting the cause. The website states its mission as "effective education options for every child" and offers a variety of ways to share that message.
Another component of the controversy in school choice pertains to religious schools as an option for students. Many people believe using public funding to send a child to a faith-based school comes too close for comfort to the issue of separation of church and state. Others believe if parents have options, they should have all options on the table.
National School Choice Week takes place now, during the first month of the New Year. The issue of school choice will undoubtedly remain a hot topic throughout 2011 in the media, at school board meetings, on the campaign trail, and likely in courts across the country.
Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit www.jennifercerbasi.com