States Embracing School Choice See Better Outcomes
In November, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released the annual Report Card on American Education, tracking state education performance and progress over time. The results point out the variety in approaches to education across the country and reveal that some states and school systems in America have done a much better job in rising to the challenge of the 21st Century than others.
Diversity both in student bodies and in approaches to education reform defines state education systems. The only consistent reform across all 50 states and the District of Columbia involved the adoption of academic standards and transparency that accompanied the No Child Left Behind Act. Some states embraced transparency earlier and better than others, but all states now provide basic school and district level information to parents and the public.
These new metrics can be used by parents to make the right choice as to where and how to educate their children. Lawmakers in most states have also expanded access to schooling options outside their zoned district school. Parents have embraced magnet and charter schools and within and between district transfer options. Lawmakers in all 50 states allow parents to educate their children through homeschooling. Nationwide 2.5 million students attend public charter schools, about 5 percent of the total public school enrollment.
Groundbreaking reformers in Louisiana (with other states following suit) have updated the school district model by updating its role for the 21st Century. In New Orleans, the district now vets school operators, monitors student academic progress, and terminates the contracts of operators who underperform. New Orleans schools, while having miles to go, have made remarkable academic progress. ALEC responded by giving Louisiana’s state education policy a “B-“ grade.
Nebraska, on the other hand, has repeatedly voted down bills that would allow charter schools in the state. While schools in the Omaha Public Schools district continue to underperform, the state’s unicameral legislature indefinitely postponed consideration of the Independent Public Schools Act; meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Scott Lautenbaugh, reached his term limit and is no longer in office. Nebraska remains 1 of 8 states that do not allow public charter schools, which contributed to their “D+” policy grade on ALEC’s Report Card.
These innovations, or lack thereof, many times have a profound impact on student performance. Over the last decade, during a time period where states like Louisiana were making changes to their state education policy and states like Nebraska were digging their heels in the ground, those who allowed flexibility and school choice saw an increase in test scores, while states who remained entrenched in their ways saw test scores flat line or decrease.
It is for reasons like this that National School Choice Week, January 25-31, is celebrated across the country, encouraging the empowerment of parents to choose the best educational environments for their children – from traditional public schools, charter and magnet schools, private institutions, online learning, and homeschooling.
American public education has never performed better than it does now, but unfortunately the improvement has not been strong or widespread enough to close the gap with international competitors. The deep gap between the best performing students in America and the world remains deeply troubling. There has been some progress made in the last decade, but students need and deserve much better education policy, beginning with school choice.