School choice is a hot topic right now. With a new president in office and the Senate currently considering a prominent school choice advocate to run the U.S. Department of Education, parents from all walks of life have questions about what educational opportunity will look like in 2017.
If Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, has his way, it will look a lot like this: “School choice simply means empowering parents — the people who know their kids the best — with the ability to choose the best education options for those kids. These options include everything from traditional public schools to public charter schools. Magnet schools. Private schools. Online academies. And homeschooling.”
National School Choice Week is underway right now, and runs through January 28. The annual event began after a group of parents saw various kinds of education-related protests taking place across the country, and wondered why something similar wasn’t happening with school choice. As Campanella tells Opportunity Lives, the parents asked, “Why not take a week out of the year to talk about what’s working in terms of parents choosing schools?”
So they did just that, encouraging their fellow parents and community members to plan their own events. The week-long celebration launched in 2011 with just 150 events around the country. This year, there will be nearly 22,000 events across all 50 states. Each of these events will be different and unique to the communities in which they are being held.
This year, there will be nearly 22,000 School Choice Week events across all 50 states. | Photo: National School Choice Week
National School Choice Week is a different kind of education event. Whereas some school-related discussions can skew toward the negative, the events taking place this week emphasize the positive, with parents playing the most important role.
According to Campanella, when parents pick the best school for their child, “graduation rates go up, student achievement goes up, lifetime earnings for students go up, and overall parent satisfaction goes up, too.”
Non-parents have a role to play, too.
Campanella himself has no children, and says there are many others like him who are active in the school choice movement. They find their way into the movement in different ways, but often their stories are similar to his.
“I was working in public relations and I volunteered on the side with some kids in D.C. schools and wanted to help them learn civics because I’ve always been interested in government and civics,” Campanella said.
“I was working with these students, and they were in the 11th and 12th grades, and we had some writing assignments that they were working on,” he continued. “And I was absolutely devastated when I saw the result of some of their writings. These are kids who had such big dreams, but they couldn’t put a few sentences together into a paragraph.”
Campanella began talking with some of the students about their educational experiences. They told him how they never had a teacher who would remain for the entire school year, and described how their schools were falling apart.
“And that’s sort of when my eyes were opened,” he said.
When parents pick the best school for their child, “graduation rates go up, student achievement goes up, lifetime earnings for students go up, and overall parent satisfaction goes up, too.” | Photo: National School Choice Week
Eye opening, indeed, since D.C. public schools are among the most well-funded in the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, D.C. spent $29,349 per pupil in the 2010-2011 school year. But in 2013, 83 percent of eighth graders were not proficient in reading while 81 percent were not proficient in math.
It’s these kinds of numbers that drive the school choice movement. Businesses, too, have joined the movement by forming partnerships with school communities, often taking the form of mentoring, tutoring, purchasing much-needed equipment, developing curricula, and providing students opportunities to explore different careers.
“You also see a lot of business people get involved because they know that it’s so important to be able to bring people into their organizations, into their companies, who have strong reading and writing skills, strong math skills … who can help organizations and companies succeed, and they themselves succeed,” Campanella said.
Campanella urges parents, non-parents and businesses to act quickly. “We need options for kids like those that I was working with because if we don’t give options to parents immediately, what’s going to happen? We can’t wait for a 10-year plan, it’s not going to work,” he said.
Teri Christoph is a contributor for Opportunity Lives, a co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, an online community for conservative women, and a full-time fundraiser for conservative candidates and causes. She lives in Leesburg, Virginia, with her husband and four children. Follow Teri on Twitter @TeriChristoph.