Step up to the ‘school choice’ smorgasbord, where with Indiana phasing in one of the nation’s most expansive school voucher programs and charter school options expanding (at least in urban areas), parents face a growing array of choices for where to send their kids to school.
A dizzying experience? TIME’s Andrew Rotherham hopes he can orient you with five lessons from his school choice experience, which I’ve paraphrased here:
- Look beneath the label. “Public” or “private” doesn’t really tell you much, so don’t scratch a school off your list just because of how it’s governed…
- Go for a test-drive. Visit the schools you’re interested in during a regular school day. Ask to observe teachers in class so you can get a feel for how the adults treat the kids, parents and one another… Surprisingly, our sit-in approach quickly eliminated the most coveted public school near our house because its administrators forbid classroom visits except during the comically inept tours the school gives. We figured — correctly, it appears, based on the experiences of other families we’ve talked to — that if this were the administration’s attitude toward prospective parents, it wouldn’t get any better once our children enrolled.
- Be diligent, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes too much information is a curse… “Paralysis by analysis,” as they say in my line of work. More than once we had to remind ourselves that every little thing didn’t matter; the big picture did…
- Follow your instincts. What your child needs matters most, so after you do your homework, go with your gut, not the herd…
- Keep pushing for more choices. It’s amazing how routine it has become in public education to deny people choice and power. Giving more Americans this kind of empowerment matters to my wife and me out of basic fairness, but also because in ways large and small, our fate is bound up with those of millions of parents around the country who are growing frustrated with our public system. We need them to support public schools when they go to voting booths just as much as we need their kids to grow into productive citizens.
But author Peg Tyre was unimpressed. She plugs her new book in a guest blog post, where she calls out Rotherham for being, she says, too simplistic:
His advice is 1) look at test scores 2) go for a tour and 3) talk to your friends. Oh, and by the way, we need more charter schools. Really? That’s it? C’mon, Mr. Rotherham! Show some respect for the school choice process! … Parents of school-aged are hungry for real information about schooling. Looks to me like [TIME] punted on a great opportunity to provide their readers with what they so vitally need.
She doesn’t offer any of this “real information” in her blog post, but I guess the point is that you buy the book.