For the past seven days, we've been celebrating National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual week-long event designed to promote and energize efforts to give parents and students more options when it comes to K-12 education. Now in it's seventh year, NSCW coordinated over 20,000 events in every state in the country, a strong showing that mirrors the growth of charter schools, voucher programs, tax credits, and other systems that give more people a way to find a school that's right for their children.
All of our coverage—about 20 articles, videos, and podcasts—can be found under our "school choice" tab but I wanted to flag a few entries for readers who might have missed them during a week that was filled with all sorts of other news.
First up is a video shot at a NSCW rally in Austin, Texas that explains the big new development in choice, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). These function like Health Savings Accounts or Medical Savings Accounts, with participants being given a debit card preloaded with money that can be spent for tuition, experiences, tutoring, certficiations, and more. It allows parents and students to radically personalize their education.
Next up is an Reason Podcast with Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas. Greene explains that successful state-wide experimentation in Arizona have changed the politics of the school choice movement by bringing in middle- and upper-class families who want more options for their kids. While the movement's original focus on low-income students made sense—those kids needed reform, and fast—wealthier parents have more political clout. Greene also discusses the trend away from teaching the liberal arts and toward teaching to state-proficiency and other standardized tests. That's a major loss, he says, as different parents want different things for their kids and the full flowering of educational opportunities is stunted by common yardsticks that don't actually create the sort of engaged, critical, self-directed students who will be able to create their own lives. To my mind, his cornucopic vision of all sorts of radically different types of schools with different structures, curricula, and emphases is inspiring as hell.
As a final sample of what we've offered, check out Robby Soave and Tyler Koteskey's feature from the March print issue of Reason. "Why Are Cops Putting Kids in Cuffs?" looks at how a variety of federal and state laws have transformed K-12 schools into minimum-security prisons. A snippet:
When 14-year-old Ryan Turk cut ahead of the lunch line to grab a milk, he didn't expect to get in trouble. He certainly didn't plan to end up in handcuffs. But Turk, a black student at Graham Park Middle School, was arrested for disorderly conduct and petty larceny for procuring the 65-cent carton. The state of Virginia is actually prosecuting the case, which went to trial in November.
Chief among the many ironies of this story is that Turk didn't actually steal anything: He participates in Virginia's free lunch program, which entitles him to one complimentary carton of milk each day. On the afternoon in question, Turk had forgotten to claim his drink during his first pass through the line, so he went back. That's when the trouble started, for a very specific reason: A police officer spotted him and misunderstood what was happening. A police officer. In the cafeteria.
Graham Park Middle School is among the roughly 43 percent of public schools in the U.S. with a School Resource Officer (SRO): a cop specifically assigned to patrol the school. SROs exist ostensibly to keep students safe and classrooms crime-free. But the staggering increase in their ranks over the last several decades has produced thousands of questionable suspensions and arrests. Many due process advocates and education reformers now wonder if the presence of so many cops is actually undermining school discipline.
You can find all of our school choice offerings here.
For more information on National School Choice Week, go here.