School choice and Target

Today, my very first television appearance aired. I was a member of a panel on a show called Face the State, which airs in Columbus, Ohio. Face the State is a show that covers local and state policy and social issues. It’s on after Face the Nation, so it’s like the local version of that.

The show I joined was one that discussed the topics of EdChoice (a K-12 voucher program), the cost of higher education, and student loan debt. So, these are all things I read about every single day, all day long. It’s what I get paid to do. And I love it. I love learning about the nuances of education. It’s intriguing to me and I feel like I know quite a bit about it. Anyway, I say all that to say that I didn’t feel out of my element at all…except that it was on television.

The show opened with some national news snippets to ground the conversation and into the first question that was about EdChoice. A local school board member said his piece, and a local lawyer very familiar with the issue at the statehouse said hers. And because I used to work for one of the state’s highest performing charter schools, I have thoughts of my own. During my response, I said the following: “If my local Target didn’t have what I needed, then I can drive across town to another one to get what I need. I don’t understand why parents can’t make that same decision with their child’s education.”

Ok. Hear me out.

I know that education is far more complicated than going to Target for some bananas. Trust me, I do. My comparison may have come off as trivializing or minimizing what it takes to educate a child. But what I did mean was this:

That parents in Ohio are able to freely choose what pre-k program they send their child to. And that child then is able to freely choose what college they attend. But those years in the middle? Those are the years that are politicized. The years that are the most formative, the most influential and the most important, are the very ones that are the most restricted. Why shouldn’t a parent, seeing or knowing that their child isn’t getting what they need at their neighborhood school, be able to get their child into a school they know can give them what they need? Why should a parent be obligated to send their child to a school that is failing (regardless of what failing means….to the parent.)

This is what I meant. I meant that education has become a space where it would be easy to argue that politics are more important than preparedness. And as we all know, once something becomes politicized, it can never go back. It’s a bell that can’t be “unrung.”

From a higher education perspective, the more students who are unprepared the more has to be done to remediate, which means more money for more course hours. More course hours, more debt. And more of whatever comes after that.

Someday, school choice will be as easy as it should be, and will develop the smartest, most capable, and kindest people on the planet. Until then, let’s just try to get kids what they need.

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