School Choice

We Chose Our Child's School. More Parents Should Be Given That Choice for Their Kids

It’s good to be able to pick an education that suits your kid instead of one crafted by bureaucrats.


Yet another turning point in our family's education odyssey came when our then 12-year-old son, Anthony, came to us and said, "I'd like to meet other kids like me."

My wife and I looked at each other. He wants to meet other sensitive, piano-playing, meaning-of-life contemplating, martial artists who like to do deep dives into the history of the Ottoman Empire? That might be a challenge in rural Arizona—or anywhere.

We had been homeschooling Anthony for several years at that point because kids like him are thin on the ground, and so are the educational offerings to keep them challenged. But we put in the effort and—months later—found the private school he now attends. It was roughly 100 miles away and would require some juggling. But when Anthony visited the place and announced that he loved the people and culture at the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy, we knew we had to make it work.

Anthony, as we've come to understand over the years, is "gifted."

"Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains," according to the National Association for Gifted Children.

"The term 'gifted and talented', when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities," adds the official federal government definition.

The running joke among a lot of parents of such kids is, "if this is a gift, can I return it?" That's because, as the feds concede, these kids "need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school." They are a lot of work for parents who care enough to keep them interested and engaged. Stuck in a regular learning environment, they get bored and frustrated.

"Children who are gifted tend to exhibit more introverted behaviors and find groups—especially of the same age—distracting," writes Christie McWilliams for Michigan State University's Gifted and Talented Education Office.

For Anthony, this meant regular anxiety attacks until we withdrew him from his charter school—itself a credible attempt to offer better education than the local traditional public schools could manage—and started educating him at home.

We're fortunate in that we have the resources to do what our family requires without being forced to accept the default offerings. That meant I could leave my salaried job to guide Anthony's education, with some freelance work on the side. I wrote at one end of the kitchen counter while he did online assignments or worked on essays. We then turned the countertop into a chemistry lab, headed out for a field trip, or watched and analyzed a video lecture together. (Just don't tell my wife that we dissected a frog on one of the cutting boards.)

And, when Anthony announced that he wanted to be around more kids like him, we could afford to pay tuition, rent an apartment, and split our household so he could attend school with kids like himself and my wife could continue working in the pediatric clinic near our house.

Some public school systems do offer specialized programs, including those targeted at gifted kids. But that assumes that they have the ability and interest to serve such a population. That's a big ask of government institutions in a politicized era that's seen many people consumed by egalitarian obsessions. Educators who think giftedness is just another sign of privilege put kids like mine at the bottom of their priority lists.

"Despite arguments and pleas from parents—as well as complaints to the attorney general's office and intervention by the state lawmakers—this week the Seattle School Board voted to approve … a key step in dismantling the city's academically gifted program in its current state," The Stranger's Katie Herzog reported last week.

"Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau has argued the program, which predominantly enrolls white and Asian students, created racial segregation … and it has a racist legacy," the Seattle Times adds.

Never mind that many of the gifted program's most vocal defenders are minority families.

If we had to rely on public school offerings for our rather particular needs, my son's education would be at constant risk of shifting political winds and we'd have to worry about expending energy on advocacy rather than learning. But we don't—we have the means to ignore government institutions and pay for what we want.

We've met other families whose journeys have been more difficult than ours. Some of them uprooted their lives and moved across the country to get access to a school where their kids felt like they fit.

Arizona's hospitable school choice environment makes ignoring and escaping government schools easier than in many other states. Charter schools are plentiful, homeschooling is encouraged, and "empowerment scholarship accounts" (vouchers) help pay for private education. Plus, the state's tuition tax credits allow residents to take dollar-for-dollar credits on state taxes for donations to organizations which provide scholarships for private school students.

Only about 4 percent of Arizona students attend private schools, compared to 10 percent nationally. But that's likely because of the range of competing options—about 17 percent of students in the state attend privately managed but publicly funded charter schools, homeschooling is easy and popular, online schooling is commonplace, and public schools offer open enrollment across district lines. For many Arizona families, it's easy to pick among education choices without having to shoulder tuition expenses on top of the taxes they already pay.

Some of us need something a little more specialized, however, and we have the means to choose it without being drawn into political fights and compromises.

At Herberger, our son studies an accelerated curriculum developed at Cambridge University, hangs out with kids with inquiring minds who prank each other with home-brewed malware, and is challenged by peers who are an awful lot like him. The school has a design lab, a top-notch theater program, and a close relationship with Arizona State University. Policies are flexible—he was offered admission to the high school at 13, which we put off for a year so he could complete his taekwondo black belt training and we could make some preparations.

Yes, he's happy there.

Herberger is not for everybody, but it's not supposed to be. It's just supposed to be right for the kids at whom it's targeted.

The same can be said, by the way, of many of the nearly 35,000 private schools in the United States serving almost 6 million students. They cater to special needs, special interests, specific educational philosophies, and particular religious affiliations. The families that make use of such schools choose them because they are a good match, and they are willing to pay for what works.

That's the nice thing about choice—you pick what's right for you based on your own values and priorities, while others are free to do the same. It's much more pleasant to go shopping for what you want instead of battling with policymakers and bureaucrats in the hope that top-down decision-making will temporarily shift in your favor. Americans would be well-served if the powers-that-be surrendered their claims on children and their demands for us all to support government institutions that just don't work for many of us.

Note: If you're on your own education journey, you may benefit from a list of homeschooling resources I've assembled.

NEXT: Why Alaskans Can't Get Alaskan Natural Gas 

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  1. “He wants to meet other sensitive, piano-playing, meaning-of-life contemplating, martial artists who like to do deep dives into the history of the Ottoman Empire? That might be a challenge in rural Arizona—or anywhere”

    Congrats, you’re that guy and you’ve raised a douchebag.

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    2. The Tuccille family has a long history of insufferable cunts bringing up a new generation of insufferable cunts.

  2. We had been homeschooling Anthony for several years at that point because kids like him are thin on the ground, and so are the educational offerings to keep them challenged. But we put in the effort and—months later—found the private school he now attends. It was roughly 100 miles away and would require some juggling.

    You and your wife should be commended, Mr. Tuccille. It is not easy rearing gifted children. Keep going.

  3. Example #755 of how the distinction between “culture-war issues” and “economic issues” is not as clear-cut as some would claim.

  4. This is the sort of thing I’d post a link to on Twitter if I had a Twitter account just to see people try to defend the notion that you and your child should be punished for trying to escape the collective. It’s not about trying to make it equally possible for everybody to succeed, it’s about making sure it’s equally impossible. It’s not fair that some people are better at some thing than others and they must be Harrison Bergeronned lest somebody feel bad about being less talented in that area.

  5. Here in south Texas, we have the choice of four public charter schools and one traditional public school. The parents make the decision on which school best fits their child. Works very well except that the charter schools do have waiting lists. Need more choice and more charters.

  6. Good to see Reason finally pushing some clean, non TDS libertarian articles.

    Democrats dont want you to have choice as choice as choice leads to inequality and lack of control. Next week they are expected to vote to outlaw right to work laws. This is a pattern. They solely care about the power and money of unions.

    1. Leftists see “education” as perhaps the important means of aggrandizing the power of highly centralized government. The aim is not only to program the population to accept their dogma, but also to harness trillions of dollars to their benefit and keep juiced their unionized army of millions of little Eichmanns.

      Each and every child that falls through cracks and receives real learning at home or private school is perceived as a great threat.

    2. Good to see that even in a ‘non TDS libertarian article’, you DeRps have to make it all about DeRp

      1. On the other hand, this is the first comment you’ve made in months that wasn’t a batshit fucking insane tin foil hat Republican conspiracy theory. So there’s that.

    3. Yes, I totally agree = Good to see Reason finally pushing some clean, non TDS libertarian articles.

      As a child, I was in a gifted and talented program, but with a twist. Now this was way back when in the Dark Ages, back in the ancient times of the early 70’s. Back then, it was thought if you paired high achievers with lower achievers, the higher achievers would pull up the lower achievers. That was known back then as a variation on ‘mainstreaming’ as I recall. Guess what? That was not at all what happened. My observation is that the high achievers got pulled downward, probably myself included to some degree.

      I just don’t understand why we would not want to develop our gifted and talented to the outermost limits of their capabilities.

      If a parent (like Tuccille) wants to personally sacrifice to educate their children (and they are), we should never stand in the way. And most especially government should not stand in the way.

      1. It’s not just the ’70s. My niece is in a gifted program at her school. She’s in a mixed class with normal kids, plus lower achievers/behavioral issues, etc. Twice a week she gets pulled out with the other gifted kids.

  7. Yesterday (trouble is I’m usually hours behind the blog entries) I remarked about how the libertarian education reform movement has been affected by the charter school movement, for good or ill. Any discussion of that anywhere? Or here?

  8. 50 plus years ago I was placed in accelerated classes, unfortunately nobody diagnosed a learning disability. It took 3 high schools and 3 colleges to become ‘meritized’. Still I ended up working on my own at my own pace and own way. Help for individualism rarely comes from government.

  9. public school is for people who can’t get out of it.

  10. Anthony, as we’ve come to understand over the years, is “gifted.”

    Sounds like he was gifted to have parents who taught him from an early age. More children would be seen as gifted if this happened to them. Problem is, too many parents aren’t bright enough to do it.

    1. Or more accurately, the Tuccille’s paid somebody to tell them that their imbecilic spawn was the specialist snowflake there ever was. It’s nice work if you can get it.

  11. “Children who are gifted tend to exhibit more introverted behaviors and find groups—especially of the same age—distracting,”

    All this time I thought I was just antisocial. I’M GIFTED!!!!!

    1. “My socially retarded child is only socially retarded because he’s so goddamn special” is the oldest and fucking saddest parental cope there is. Naturally, autistic ”””””libertarians””””” are drawn to it like flies to shit.

      1. ^This from a guy who has to pull a different name out of his sock drawer every day.^

  12. 100 miles away? How on earth do you make that work?

    1. “100 miles away? How on earth do you make that work?”
      You make it work by probably: 1) being white and middle-to-upper-middle-class (so that the school isn’t, suddenly, “full” when you pull up to enroll them), 2) by having at least one parent not needing to work so that they can transport (or pay to have transported) the kid to/from school and/or rent an apartment near faraway school for weekdays.
      School vouchers aren’t going to get around either of those hurdles.

  13. “…we have the means to ignore government institutions and pay for what we want. Some of them uprooted their lives and moved across the country to get access to a school where their kids felt like they fit.”

    Isn’t that the way it’s SUPPOSED TO WORK? If you don’t like the government services where you live, move to someplace with a government you like better or buy services you like better than those your government does provide? Can’t afford to buy private/home schooling you like better? If you don’t like the government schools around you, why did you choose to have/raise kids there?

    “School choice” begs the question of just whom public schools serve.

    Public schools’ customers are the general taxpaying public, not just the
    current students, not just the parents of current students, and
    certainly not teachers and administrators.

    Parents of students are an interest group, lobbyists. Far from being the customers, children are the uneducated inputs to the system and educated children are the products or outputs of the system.

    Public schools are a government service, same as courts, police, prisons, road departments, tax assessors, etc.

    If you don’t like your local courts, you do not get tax money (aka vouchers) to take your case to a court you like better. You do not get tax money to hire a police department or prosecutor that you like better. You don’t get tax money to send your kid to a prison you like better.

    So why should you get tax money to send your kid to a school you like
    better? Why should a private school you like better get tax money to
    enroll your kid? Why should donors get a tax credit (not a deduction)
    for making a contribution to a fund that funnels donated money to
    private schools?

    Many government schools fail to achieve their purpose. So do many police
    forces, courts, prisons, legislative bodies. The taxpayers/voters are
    responsible for remedying these failures. The taxpayers/voters are NOT
    responsible for giving individuals respite from these failures.

  14. Choose a school that can solve trivial problems. Because this is according to their future.

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  16. Thank you for your support of gifted education and for including my work! I want to note that the quote you included from me is misquoted (not copied directly) as well as taken slightly out of context. In my article, I compare how gifted students differ from high achievers. This particular section discusses how gifted individuals and high achievers replenish their energy differently. They “may” find groups distracting when a teacher groups them based on ONLY their age rather than cognitive ability or potential. Below is the section you referenced should anyone be wondering about the context of this information:

    (subhead–about differences between gifted and high achievers) They replenish their energy differently.

    They way these two groups of children replenish their energy tends to differ as well. Both average and high-achieving youth typically are energized through spending time with others. They study with their peers and frequently call their friends. They thrive in groups.

    Children who are gifted, on the other hand, may find groups distracting, particularly when groups are based on age. Consequently, they may exhibit more introverted behaviors. In the classroom, when a teacher assigns a group activity, it is not uncommon for a gifted child to ask, “Is it okay if I am in a group of one?” They replenish their energy while being alone, and they may at times need to sit by themselves or take a walk in nature (Juntune, 2013).

  17. But deplorable parents don’t know how to make decisions that benefit the greater good.

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  19. I agree that parents should have choice of school of their kids. When admitted to proper school on time, kids get to learn English Grammar Basics and other science topics from their early age.

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