I was honored to share the stage with several education leaders in Miami last month to talk about how families need more high-quality education options for their children.
It was a tremendous challenge to dive into the expansive topic of educational opportunity in only 60 minutes. It’s nearly impossible when the panel is Spanish-language and is comprised of passionate Hispanic education advocates. We are, after all, not known for our brevity.
Thanks to the Education Writers Association, we gathered for this important conversation as part of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Conference. The panel, deftly moderated by Esmeralda Fabian Romero of The 74, brought together advocates from different, and often opposing, viewpoints to talk about educational opportunity. Finding agreement among the groups was almost as difficult as finding an appropriate translation for education buzzwords. ¿Cómo se dice “educational opportunity” en español?
After the panel, I found myself thinking about all of things I wish I would have said or at least echoed the robust discussion continued past the allotted time. So instead, I’m compiling it here.
Every kid deserves a quality education. Period.
This may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s not. I often hear “we care about kids” or “we need to do what’s best for kids.” These statements, though well-intentioned, don’t demand change. They put adults at the center, not students. Imagine for a second if we built an education system from the kid up. I can guarantee you it would look vastly different from what we have now.
Although I mentioned this concept during the panel, I would hammer this point relentlessly. I would also share the stories I’ve heard from parents who struggle to find an educational setting that works for their children. I would share the story I heard from a mom who worries that her son’s brown skin and different learning style are the reasons he was pegged for remedial classes, despite perfect scores on statewide assessments. I would share my own story of how my two teenagers have vastly different needs and abilities.
I care less about the type of school students attend and more about if they are learning and preparing for a successful life outside the classroom. And if we truly believe that education is about the child, then we have to listen to parents and families to ensure the funding for that child is being used to meet their needs.
So one more time for emphasis: Every child in America deserves a quality education, no matter their zip code, learning style, ability level or skin color.
“School Choice” encompasses an array of options and that’s a good thing.
Critics of giving families an array of educational options are good at creating “us vs. them” arguments. They often pit teachers against low-income students in school choice programs, and public school students against charter school students.
However, the umbrella of school choice is a big one because it covers every K-12 student attending a school other than his or her residentially-assigned school. Participate in a magnet program or career academy? That’s school choice. Attend a public charter school or virtual education program? That’s school choice, too. Is your child one of the 160,000 students each year that use Florida’s VPK program where public funds follow the child to their parent’s preferred school? School choice again.
During the Q and A portion of the panel, a reporter stepped up to the mic to ask about the amount of money that has been “funneled into school choice programs.” I was taken back by his characterization.
What he unfairly portrayed as government waste, I see as a new freedom to fund the best educational setting for a child by empowering families with the resources they have previously been denied. Funding does not belong to any one entity or system – only to that child’s education and future. It should follow the child to the educational setting that works best for them.
I tend to think the families of the 450,000 Florida students who attended a public charter school, virtual program or private school through one of the state’s K-12 scholarship programs last year would tend to agree.
Academic achievement and educational opportunity are intertwined.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, most states made little to no improvements (except Florida) in reading and mathematics.
In 2017, Florida fourth graders ranked 5th in the nation in reading, outperforming the national average of public school students by 7.5 points. (10 points roughly equate to a grade level on NAEP.) On that same assessment, Florida made more improvement than any other state in the nation in 2017. States that have made the most progress in early literacy are ones that have adopted comprehensive K-3 reading policies, like those in Florida, which focus on early intervention. The policy’s overarching goal is for all students to enter fourth grade with the foundational reading skills they will need to learn, graduate and succeed.
While we still have lots of room for improvement, Florida’s success comes even as the percentage of students participating in educational choice programs continues to increase.
Data is an education reformer’s friend.
In addition to sharing the personal stories I hear from everyday Floridians who appreciate having educational options, I also want to share the data behind these stories. I’ve listed a few recent blogs that quantify the positive, lasting impact of giving families the opportunity and resources to help their children find quality educational options.
- On tax-credit scholarships, read Florida Tax Credit Scholarships Send More Students to College, Save Taxpayers Money.
- On public charter schools, read Here’s the Florida Charter School Data You May Have Missed.
- On Florida’s recent improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, read #AskExcelinEd: How does Florida compare on the 2017 NAEP?
Let me know what points you would have shared by emailing me at Debbie@ExcelinEd.org or connecting through Twitter at @DebbieMortham.