Diversity. Inclusion. Differentiation. These have been the hot buzzwords in public education for the past two decades. And rightly so. Children are a supremely diverse group of individuals. Each student has unique strengths, abilities, preferences and backgrounds.
Parents, teachers and other educational stakeholders want to ensure that each student has the instruction, curriculum, learning environment and resources that will enable them to flourish. Ideally, we want to provide every student with the educational option that best suits their individual needs regardless of background or abilities. To ensure this, children and parents must have the greatest possible choice in their educational options. Sadly, families don’t have that choice in much of the country, including my home state of Maryland.
All students would benefit from having a diverse range of schooling options. Whether an inclusive traditional public school, public charter school, magnet school, parochial school, private school or home-school, each student deserves to attend the school that best fits him or her.
As a public schoolteacher with two decades of experience, I am deeply concerned that most parents cannot tailor their children’s education to their specific needs. Daily, I see learners who would benefit from an alternative learning environment, but cannot because the lack of access to affordable options prevents them from doing so. To provide the most diverse, inclusive and differentiated education for every student, we need to provide broad school choice to every family.
Let’s face it. Because we lack school choice, ZIP codes determine the quality of most students’ education. Wealthier families already have a de facto school choice. They can move to affluent public-school districts. They can send their children to elite private schools. Although it might mean sacrifices, they can send their kids to the schools that best match their children’s abilities and needs.
However, what about less affluent families? It is clear that a high-quality education is one of the surest routes out of poverty. There is a direct correlation between education levels and good health, low crime rates and social mobility. Nevertheless, in a system without school choice, most low-income families are limited to the schools predetermined for them, regardless of their children’s diverse needs. They are, in effect, involuntarily tied to their local public schools, no matter how poorly those schools perform. By depriving less affluent students of the right to choose the education that best suits them, we are blocking them from their most effective lifeline out of poverty.
Ultimately, school choice is about empowering children, particularly the most disadvantaged, to secure the education that will best enable them to succeed. It is time to allow public education funding to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs. Our future depends on it.
Vann Prime (Vann_Prime@hcpss.org) has taught AP Economics and AP European History at Mt. Hebron High School in the Howard County Public School System for 17 years. In 2022, Mr. Prime was honored with the John Morton Award, the Council for Economics Education’s national high school economics teacher of the year. Additionally, Mr. Prime coaches Mt. Hebron’s National Economics Challenge teams, which have won six national championships, and has coached team USA in the National Economics Olympiad since 2019.