Education Up Front

May 25, 2004

June 8, 2004

June 22, 2004


Parental choice in schools key to educational quality

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:

  • An estimated 20 million K-12 students change schools for whatever reason each year. California is among the 43 states that allows choice across or within school districts. School districts have the option to become an "open enrollment" or "choice" district that allows non-district residents to apply to any school in the district. Each district sets its own policy regarding intra-district and inter-district transfers and parents should consult their home districts to learn about their options.

  • One out of two families say schools influenced their decision as to where to live. Ask any Realtor what buyers are most concerned about when looking at neighborhoods and they will cite quality of schools at or near the top of the list.

  • At last count, there were 473 "magnet schools" in California. These are specialized schools for students that usually have a specific focus such as performing arts, mathematics, science, vocational training, etc. Magnet schools do not have the same boundary limitations restricting attendance that typical neighborhood schools have.

  • Until 1992 there was no such thing as a charter school. Today, there are 2,700 charter schools in the United States, educating 700,000-plus children, including nearly 500 such schools in California and 75 in San Diego County. Charter schools are public schools that have a specific mission or emphasis and are free from some of the traditional school regulations required by the state.

  • Less than two years ago, there were an estimated 1 million children being home-schooled in the United States with more resources now becoming available to parents who want to be in total charge of their children's education. While no official statistics are available, the estimates run as high as 1.7 to 2 million young people being home-schooled today.

  • Parents from all socio-economic strata also have more options to send their children to private schools with financial grants and aid being offered by various agencies and foundations.

  • "Alternative schools" also are an option for parents whose children may have special needs. These are generally schools with educational philosophies that differ from traditional programs. Typically, they have small classes, social and emotional development as well as self-paced curricula. The title describes a wide range of schools so it is important to ask specific schools why they are classified as "alternative."

    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 ginger.hovenic@sddt.com.


  • May 25, 2004

    June 8, 2004

    June 22, 2004