School Choice 101

Following on Charlie’s lead from MLK Day and his mention of charter schools, I thought it would be appropriate to expand on that with the various options that exist for school choice. This session is looking like education will be a big deal, especially after the Governor’s budget proposal, and we did have some success this past summer with the charter school amendment. Couple that with the beginning of National School Choice Week yesterday, it only makes sense to talk about all of the school choice options.

Welcome to School Choice 101.

First let’s talk about what it isn’t. It isn’t getting rid of public schools. Instead it is creating an environment that provides options for students. This includes charter schools but also much more. Let’s go a head and cover what the different options are.

Option 1: The public schools we are already familiar with. One of the nice things about school choice is that if you like the public schools that you are zoned for, you can choose to go there. There’s nothing about school choice that forces students out of a public school, and going to a traditional public school is still making a choice. These are the schools administered by school districts that we are all familiar with.

Option 2: Magnet schools. These are typically a traditional public school but they have a specialty. Some have a STEM focus, others focus on the performing arts, and others are geared more towards the International Baccalaureate. These schools give students a chance to really begin to dive in to a subject and start to specialize before they go to college or trade school.

Option 3: Private school. These are privately funded and run schools that generally charge a tuition to cover the costs of running a school, instead of receiving state or district funding as their primary income. Sometimes these schools are associated with a particular religious group or pedagogical approach. Because these schools are privately funded they can teach in different ways, like a Montessori school,  or teach from a religious frame of mind.

Option 4: Charter schools. The word charter evokes strong emotions in the education world. Some folks view charter schools like Charlie looks at Brunswick stew with anything green in it. Simply put a charter school allows a private entity to run a school that does not have to conform with all of the same practices that a traditional school does. Sometimes these are run by for profit companies, others are non profit entities. They are public schools that can require uniforms, or use different pedagogical techniques, longer or shorter school days, etc. There is a lot of possibility here. Not all charter schools are created equal. Some out perform traditional schools, others not so much. You see a lot of educational reform folks advocate the benefits for charters. While charters do have lots of benefits and we’ve seen success in New Orleans, they aren’t always the best option. But that’s why choice is good.

Option 5: Home school. Some people want to have complete control over the curriculum and teaching styles for their children. For those people there is homeschooling. This option allows for a parent to choose how long the school day is, what days school is in session, when breaks happen, religious instruction, and catering completely to a students needs and capabilities. If the student is particularly bright, they can move through subject matter quicker than other school options. If a student needs more time on a subject, then it is easy to cater to that child’s needs. It’s complete customization.

Option 6: Online Schools. Some schools are completely online or they only meet in a building a few times a month. This is a low cost way to deliver top notch instruction. However, this isn’t for every student. It’s just another choice. These utilize online video lectures, collaborative efforts, and various other electronic resources. Some home school students will often use various online classes when they get to more advanced classes in higher grades.

Each of these is a choice. By having a myriad of options for education, our students will have a better opportunity to cater their education to their needs. This is what school choice is about, being able to choose what is best for each student. Some students would thrive in an online classroom, while others would never be able to succeed. The same can be said of any of these options. I know I probably would have thrived in an IB program, but I never would have been able to succeed in a STEM oriented magnet program.

More choice gives parents more power over their child’s education. It also allows for the exceptionally bright to move to the choice that would provide them with the most rigor. It allows for children with special needs to find the choice that will be best able to handle their unique situation. It allows for parents to be able to ensure their children get a religious oriented education or a completely secular education. All in all, it’s better for the student.


  1. Lawton Sack says:

    On the serious side:

    1. Should attendance to a certain public school be limited to just to where somebody lives? For instance, the children in our living area are zoned for a particular elementary school, even though they have to drive past another elementary school to get there. Some parents work in another county, but their children have to go to school in the county where their house is. While I understand there are some real logistics at play here (such as classroom size or building capacity), I wonder if there is a better way of choosing which kids go to a particular school.

    2. Just because there are options does not particularly mean that there are real choices for many families. There are counties around me that have public schools, virtual school, and home school as the only current options. Even in those that may have a private school as a current option, there are simply many parents that cannot afford it. Even with scholarships or enough money for tuition, the lack of public transportation limits some choices when the parent(s) cannot transport their child to and from a private school. When you have two parents working (or a single parent household), it can be difficult to homeschool children. Some children and some parents just don’t have the ability to homeschool. I work the local library in my community, and I can strongly attest to the fact that there are a lot of homes with computers and/or internet. So, this leaves the only choice for many children as attending the public school that they are zoned for.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      1) There is a lot of that question in New Orleans, and the entire school district has been divided into sectors that include many schools. Each parent gets to chose a school in that sector but can with some exceptions go outside of that sector. You’ve also seen this in other areas about families that live on the county or district line up in Wisconsin. It’s one of those things that would need to be addressed at a more local level.

      2) I think that problem stems from there not being enough options. With an expanded marketplace, more needs can be met. At the same time, rural school systems don’t face the same issues as urban/inner city school districts. Consequently any approach to improving education will have to take into account those different needs.

  2. Dr. Monica Henson says:

    Great post, Eric. I do want to clarify a few things, because I think they’re important for the general public to understand. Every charter school in Georgia is overseen by a nonprofit board of directors. Private, for-profit companies are not allowed to “run” a school unless the board specifically contracts out the operation of the school to the company. Regardless, the board of directors is the charter holder and is the entity that is held accountable by the authorizer, whether the authorizer is the local school district, the State Board of Education, or the State Charter School Commission. Authorizers do not award charters to private companies–only to nonprofit boards of directors. This is state law.

    The online school where I am superintendent, Provost Academy Georgia, is an example of a charter high school that is NOT operated by the vendor partner, EdisonLearning. The employees, including me, are all employed by the board of directors and we are all members of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. The board contracts for services and products that EdisonLearning provides, but all administrative decisions are made by the school leadership, and the board ultimately calls the shots. We have a local educational agency (LEA) number (782119) like any other public school district, and while we do have a broad flexibility waiver of many provisions of Title 20 of the O.C.G.A, any public school district has the ability to request waivers of provisions of Title 20, not just charter schools.

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