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#AskExcelinEd: Is school choice worth the struggle?

• Sam Duell

In today’s #AskExcelinEd, our Associate Policy Director of Charter Schools Sam Duell takes a timely look at the struggle for school choice.

School Choice Is a Struggle

Many of the best things in life come after intense struggle. Think children after birth, endorphins after marathons, civil rights after protest and freedom after revolution. The struggle and its antecedents are not always good in and of themselves, but struggle can lead to better outcomes.

This week, it’s important to remember that school choice is a struggle. If you don’t believe me just ask Christopher Callot about his experience as a gifted student, ask Cabral Clements how far he had to travel to his charter school to study fine arts or ask the Fife family how a private specialized language school supported their son’s ability to speak.

Families and Educators Are in This Together

Why do families struggle for more and better educational options? Families love their children. They demonstrate their love by crossing school boundaries, moving to new neighborhoods, applying for magnet programs, entering charter school lotteries and applying for tax-credit scholarships. These are actions that require time, intention and information. Families are hopeful for a brighter future, and they are willing to sacrifice to make that hope a reality.

Visionary educators struggle too, wrestling with long-established norms to create new and better opportunities for students. Take Dr. Eva Moskowitz, for example. The founder and leader of Success Academy Charter Schools has created a new system of education in New York City that offers hope and results at the same time. As recently as December, the New York Post reported that 93 percent of Success eighth-graders scored “college ready” on the state Algebra exam. Only 62 percent of the students in NYC public schools passed, and only 34 percent of eighth-graders in NYC sat for the exam.

“We have a limited amount of time to solve this problem,” Moskowitz said at ExcelinEd’s National Summit on Education Reform in December. “And so we’re going to have to be bolder. We’re going to have to go faster in order to solve the educational crisis we’re in.”

Building Solutions That Work Now

Dr. Moskowitz is right. As the parents, grandparents, friends and families of young children, we don’t have time to wait for a five-year strategic plan to take effect. We don’t have time for a school to turn around. We don’t have time to wait.

As the people who love and struggle for our children’s futures, we are compelled to find and build educational solutions that work now. Ultimately, that is exactly why many charter schools were founded—to solve immediate, pervasive problems.

During this National School Choice Week, remember charter schools and great educational options don’t just happen. They take planning, organization and vision that can sustain serious challenges. Starting new schools and creating new avenues for choice is a struggle.

But as Sen. Ben Sasse said in December, “Children are not widgets. They’re souls.” And souls are worth the struggle.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.