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Parent choice: A buzzword, not a solution for public K-12 education

Beware of people preaching simple solutions to complex problems. If the answer was easy, someone more intelligent would have thought of it a long time ago — complex problems invariably require complex and difficult solutions.

– Steve Herbert, Professor of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington


Promoting the idea of parent choice (or even worse, parents first) in public K-12 education is a simple, weak solution to a highly complex problem.

Connotations of parent choice and parents first target a majority identity group (parents) and shared values across demographics (choice/priority). It’s easy to pause critical thinking at that identity 'ping' and make the false dichotomy between parent choice and parent disregard.

Here's the thing -- the idea of parents having input in school-related matters isn't necessarily wrong, it’s just implausible within the current public education system that schools could please all parents whose choices will inevitably be at odds.

It’s also difficult for schools to grant something which they, themselves, often do not have in the first place.

Our public school system is not designed to cater to the specific needs of every American family. Private schools cannot even make such promises to their families. For that much individualization, home-schooling is a viable option.

There are those who seek to undermine the intelligence of the public by tickling their freedom bone – sounding the alarm for parents first as a mechanism that, in actuality, eliminates choice and diverts much-needed funds and resources to private and charter schools.

These people do not seek to reinvigorate the public education system; rather, they seek to wield parent choice as intellectually cheap bait in order to undermine public education. Pitting teachers and schools against their own community members is a quick and dirty way to accomplish that.

What public schools actually need is flexibility within a rigid system that, in large part due to regressive legislation at the state level, has not been able to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Promoting parent choice sets up a dichotomy in which one demographic prevails over the other. Are we that oblivious to history’s lessons that we don’t recognize such a crappy solution when we see one?

Do we not realize that most teachers and school leaders are also parents whose children attend the public schools within the districts that employ them?

If candidates for local and state offices want to promote a hierarchy in public education (which is already plagued by racial and socioeconomic inequities), then which parents get priority within the highly diverse group of parents in South Carolina?

We're not dumb. We know these buzzwords have no substance. When we buy into these platforms that position teachers and schools against parents, and parents against parents, we lose sight of the children we all purport to serve.

The hard way to achieve a more effective public education system is to increase its complexity by offering more flexible and sustainable structures to meet student, parent, teacher, and school-based staff needs.

The easy way? Engage in played-out identity wars where, in the end, we’re left with an option no one would choose.

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