When New York City parents talk about school choice, the assumption is that they are deciding between a traditional and a charter public school (with private religious and independent schools as a separate issue).
But true school choice means the option to leave any school for any reason, without being forced to jump through multiple hoops or, worse, being shut out. True school choice means the option to find a different institution that better fits what parents see as their children’s particular needs.
We spoke to a parent who exercised their right to school choice by leaving one charter for another:
New York School Talk: Why did you initially opt for a charter over a traditional public school for your child?
NYC Parent: It was the best option for us, given our location. We looked at our zoned public school’s dual-language program, but I didn’t get a sense of the academic rigor there.
Charters have longer school days, understandably tougher on kids, but makes sense with respect to using their time well, maximizing learning, and for working parents who have to figure out after-school child-care.
Also, there’s no comparison between the diversity of charters and the favorite public schools throughout the city, which are homogeneous. This supports our child’s comfort and friendships with children from all backgrounds.
NYST: What prompted you to move between charter schools?
NYCP: At our first school, it was the chance to learn a second language. This part has been good and we loved seeing the progress. However, our child kept telling us they are bored at school – that they get their work done and, along with a few classmates, are assigned special ‘folder work.’
We liked Success Academy from our kindergarten search (we were #3 on the waitlist then) and applied for 2nd grade. When we got in, we went to their parent meetings and were impressed with the ‘joyful rigor’ model. After speaking with parents of SA kids, we decided that our child is more likely to be challenged there.
NYST: Was accountability a factor in your decision to move to a charter school known for its high test scores? Were the test scores themselves a factor?
NYCP: Not really. Our child had scored well on Math and ELA tests at the original school, and I imagine that trend would have continued if we remained there. I suppose SA’s high test score reputation didn’t hurt, but if SA parents would have told us ‘nightmare stories’ we would have thought twice.
SA has “hospital corners.” They run a tight ship and, to me, this creates a safer, more organized and more predictable environment. Their orientation day for new kids was brilliant, helping kids slowly adapt to the unique and new environment before all the children arrive on the first day. They also have classroom management under control and I think that contributes to enhanced learning.
To me, SA’s test scores are an indicator that their education model works (and I found myself nodding in agreement when I heard the school principal explain their approach), but not an end in themselves.
NYST: What else did you feel that you would get in your transfer school that you didn’t get in the original? Is there anything you will miss about your former school?
NYCP: What we will miss for sure is the second language. I think teaching a child a second language is important for brain development, irrespective of the specific language, so this was not an easy decision. We also had a great experiences with the music teacher in kindergarten.
What we expect to gain at SA is daily science, daily outdoor recess, and most importantly for me, a systematic approach to maximizing my child’s learning potential. I have a smart and capable kid. But if they have free time, they will not go to the bookshelf and pick up a book on their own. So, the idea of keeping them busy joyfully learning appeals to me. My child likes to learn, but also is happy to sit and play with screens forever. If this school can truly engage them in learning, I will be over the moon.
Transferring children between traditional public schools can be a complicated procedure, which favors families who know how to game the system, as detailed here. Transferring to charter schools comes with its own set of steps.
There are political obstacles as well. In 2010, then City Council member Gale Brewer threatened to strangle any parents who moved their child from a traditional public to a charter school. She is now the Borough President.
But if there is one thing this family’s story confirms is that no school – public, private, charter, religious – is the perfect fit for all kids. The easier NYC can make it to move from any one of the above to the other, the more children are more likely to land at a place that’s the perfect fit for them.