So much has been said about who is accountable for improved student achievement in our state's public schools that sometimes people, in particular, parents, overlook the most responsible -- and powerful -- factor that can determine the quality of education received by the 6.24 million children who attend our state's K-12 schools.
The responsible party is parents and the powerful variable they control is choice. Specifically, the choices parents have in where to send their children to school and even what kind of school to enroll them in are significant determinants in what kind of education our future generation of adults is receiving today.
The "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 empowers parents to remove their children from schools that are categorized as not making "adequate yearly progress" -- in other words, schools that are failing. Surprisingly, a relatively few numbers of parents of children in those schools have elected to move their children to performing schools.
Only two percent of the estimated 75,000 students in San Diego County who attend failing schools switched to better campuses during the first year the choice option was offered. It's gotten a little better since, but parents whose children attend failing schools need to be educated as to their options -- and responsibilities -- to see to it that their child is in a successful teaching and learning environment.
Choice is nothing new in public education; it's been prevalent in many ways for as long as most of us can remember. Consider the following data:
In order to make appropriate choices, parents first need up-to-date and relevant information on the school their child is attending. Each year, every public school issues a written and standardized School Accountability Report Card (SARC) that provides information about themselves to the community about the academic achievement of their students, the teaching and learning environment, resources, and demographics. Those reports are available by contacting the school.
In addition to the schools themselves, there are many other informational resources that parents should access in making the right choice of school for their children, including such online sources as www.greatschools.net, www.just4kids.org, the Public School Parent's Network, and www.heritage.org/research/education/schools/California.
Parents are the final arbiters of educational quality, not only for their own children but for all students. Choice breeds competition among public schools that must now show progress in academic achievement in order to avoid losing the good students they have to better schools.
Nothing happens, though, until parents first choose to take a close look at their child's school, take the time to explore all the options and then choose the best educational opportunity available for their child.
With their child's future at stake, parents have no other choice.
Hovenic, Ed.D, is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail her at email@example.com.