School choice isn’t just an escape hatch for urban kids assigned to low-performing schools, argues Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in The case for public-school choice in the suburbs. Even in upper-middle-class communities with high-scoring schools, parents want different programs for their children. He sees three groups:
Tiger Moms (and Dads) . . . want gifted-and-talented programs in elementary school, lots of “honors” and Advanced Placement options in secondary school, and high-octane enrichment activities like orchestra, debate club, and chess teams. . . .
Koala Dads (and Moms), who want school to be a joyful experience for their kids, big and little. They want lots of time for creativity, personal expression, social-emotional development, and relationship-building. . . .
The Cosmopolitans, who want their children prepared to compete in a multicultural, multilingual world. They want a language immersion program for their tots (ideally Mandarin, though they’ll settle for Spanish); International Baccalaureate (IB) starting in middle school at the latest; and at least one, if not several, overseas experiences in high school.
What’s a good school for some students will be too pressured or too hang loose or vanilla for others, at least as their parents define their needs. Let new charters spring up to serve unmet needs, Petrilli writes. “If one-size-fits-all doesn’t work in the city, why does it work in the suburbs?”
School districts can’t meet every need and desire at the same school, but they can offer choices.
My daughter went to Palo Alto schools, which had plenty of Tigers, Koalas and Cosmos. The district’s choice program includes a “structured” school, which is wildly popular with some parents, and a “progressive” school, even more popular with others. It created a dual immersion Spanish school and, since my time, has added a Mandarin immersion program. In middle school, parents can choose direct instruction or an interdisciplinary approach in which “a ‘village’ of teachers, students, and parents within the larger school community focuses on interactive, project-based, experiential learning through hands-on experiences and field trips.”
Affluent parents won’t lead the charge for suburban charter schools, predicts Ed Sector’s Kris Amundson. “For them, choice is already a reality.”