School Choice

Doing the Math = School Choice

I have a confession to make. I spend a lot of time on Twitter (

As a result, I am often caught in multi-day, multi-participant conversations between various people, most of whom I only know as tiny avatar pictures. (Mine features my kids.)

Here’s what I have learned from spending a lot of time on Twitter: There is no single issue on which 100 percent of the people agree 100 percent of the time. Especially when it comes to education.

Which, of course, doesn’t stop activists from claiming that they speak for the overwhelming majority when they declare:

ALL Black families want school choice!

ALL Black families want good neighborhood schools!

ALL Black families want integration!

ALL Black families want their own schools with their own teachers teaching their own culture and curriculum!

ALL immigrant families want English as a Second Language classrooms!

ALL immigrant families want Dual Language instruction!

ALL immigrant families want immersion!

ALL families want mixed-ability classrooms!

ALL families want tracking!

ALL families want a progressive education!

ALL families want a traditional education!

ALL families want smaller class-sizes!

ALL families want more STEM!

ALL families want more Arts!

ALL union teachers are great!

ALL union teachers are terrible!

Accountability! Accountability! Accountability!

Opt-out! Opt-out! Opt-out!

Each side has statistics and studies to back up their particular stance (when I work with families, I instruct them, “tell me what you believe, and I’ll send you a study to confirm it”) as well as tenured academics to lament why, oh, why, are foolish parents not heeding their statistics and studies?

Each side has a well-curated list of names to call those who don’t agree with them. (And many also have a well developed argument for why you should do what they say, not what they do.)

I immigrated to the United States at the age of seven, speaking no English. I went to a selective public high school, and a state university. I am married to an African-American teacher, whose mother was active on the Harlem school board. We have three children, two school-age, one off to college in the fall.

When it comes to education, my opinions — and the choices I made for my own kids (like Cynthia Nixon and Matt Damon, only I’m honest about it) — are all over the map. Some line up with what you’d expect from the above biography. Some don’t. The same goes for my husband.

Our 20th wedding anniversary is coming up in January. When people want to know the secret of our longevity, we reply: Never compromise.

When you compromise, both parties are unhappy. When you don’t, at least one person is. So, in our house, the person who wants it more, gets their way.

But, just like education isn’t a family or a zero-sum game, it’s not a marriage, either. The “never compromise” principle still applies – though with a twist.

Based on all of the different opinions I see expressed daily on Twitter — and Facebook and the comments section of… everything — the only way to make the greatest number of people happy is to allow everyone to choose the sort of education they want for their child.

Now, they might not find exactly what they’re looking for. (Does anybody? I’m the one who both defends SHSAT schools and insists they’re not so great). But, let’s remember, the Declaration of Independence (happy belated 4th of July, everyone!) only promises the freedom to pursue happiness, not a guarantee of happiness itself.

If we adopt only one approach to educating children — any of the various approaches — then only one segment of the population will be happy. The one that got their way. Those who want choice, want everyone to get what they want. Those who oppose choice want everyone to want what they want.

And even then, to quote Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”: But how can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it?

Parents might discover that the pedagogy they thought would be best for their child at 4 is not at all what they need at 10. Or 14. At which point, they should have the option to alter their course. No school should be a life sentence.

If we allow everyone to pursue their definition of (educational) happiness in their own way then the odds grow higher of more people being happy with both the process and the result.

You can run the numbers any way you like (TERC, Singapore, Everyday, Bridges, etc…), but school choice for all just adds up to basic math.

What do you think?

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