Parents are ready to make choice the norm. Are states ready to accommodate them?

In one part of the country, parents are forcing reform in their school by triggering a law that would bring in a charter company to take things over. In another region, a school board has voted to put the interests of students and families ahead of its own by taking a step toward a pilot voucher program in the next academic year.

Both are signs that, as former assistant education secretary Bruno V. Manno recently said in Education Week, “families have hijacked the long-winded debates on school choice, taking the power to make a decision about which school a child attends away from bureaucrats, thereby empowering themselves.”

Consider families at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif. Sixty-two percent of the school’s parents signed and submitted on Tuesday a petition to the school district that would require district officials to bring in a charter company to run the school. The initiative activates California’s new “parent-trigger” law, under which families can bring sweeping changes to the state’s lowest-performing schools. “Yes, we can!” parents chanted at district headquarters.

On the same day, the school board in Douglas County, Colo., took another step toward providing additional educational options in its district by ordering its superintendent to investigate whether school vouchers would be good for the school system. The board’s president said he would like a pilot voucher program for the 2011-12 school year.

These events are not isolated. If we are to accept Manno’s analysis, more than half the nation’s 57 million elementary and secondary school students are attending a K-12 school of their choice. Public education to these families no longer represents the traditionally zoned neighborhood school, and the leaders who they elect are taking notice.

Douglas County school board member Meghann Silverthorn recently told the Wall Street Journal, “These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks. Parents expect the same out of their educational system.”

As Tom Vander Ark notes today, it’s time that our public policies reflect this demand from parents, “to make educational choice the norm, not the exception.” And redefinED will repeatedly comment on developments like those in its attempt to redefine public education today.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit


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