Redefining Public Education for the 21st Century Scott Kent
In her April 15 column, Sharon Harris-Ewing paints a quaint Norman Rockwell ideal of public education — an ideal that, if it ever really existed for everyone, belongs to a bygone era. The idea that centralized systems can meet the needs of every customer, much less unite them under common beliefs, contradicts the reality that characterizes the United States today.
In recent decades, in line with the rise of personal technologies, Americans have become increasingly accustomed to having more choice in their lives – where, how and when they purchase goods and services, media and entertainment they consume, and how they express themselves. The nation is much larger and far more diverse in culture and thought than it was when the traditional system of public education was created in the 19th century, its citizens more able to circumvent traditional guardians and personalize their experiences.
The choice of education is a natural progression of this social change. It doesn’t replace public education — it redefines it for the 21st century.
Florida has been at the forefront of this transformation. For 20 years, it has offered parents more options in the education of their children, whether public, private or at home. Some families have always had these choices because they could afford it – they could move to a neighborhood and attend an area school that best met their children’s needs, or they could pay school fees out of pocket. a private school. Choice scholarships have helped level the playing field, ensuring that more families have the same opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic status.
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Ms. Harris-Ewing says this competes with her vision. In a way, yes: with choice, public funds fund students, not systems. But it also complements public schools. Money follows children into the educational environment that best suits them, which may include public schools or magnet schools.
Evidence in Florida suggests this is a mutually beneficial relationship.
The graduation rate in Florida was 54% in 2001. It’s 90% now. It went from being near the bottom of the nation in K-12 achievement at the turn of the century to now ranking #3, according to Education Week, and #2 in pass the AP exams. It also ranks No. 1, No. 1, No. 3 and No. 8 on the four basic tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, when adjusted for demographics.
Additionally, a 2020 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that as the tax credit scholarship program increased, test scores increased, suspensions decreased, and absenteeism rates decreased across the board. the public schools most affected by the competition.
Meanwhile, a 2019 Urban Institute study found that scholarship students receiving a tax credit — typically the lowest performing students at their previous public schools — are up to 43% more likely than their public school peers to enroll in four-year colleges, and up to 20% more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.
As for fears that choice undermines civic values found only in public schools: EdChoice has compiled 11 research studies that have examined the impact of private school choice programs on core democratic values, including tolerance for the rights of others, civic knowledge, civic participation, volunteerism, social capital, civic skills, voter registration, voter participation and patriotism. Six found a positive impact, five found no impact, and none found a negative impact.
All of this suggests that choice can be the pressure cooker’s release valve of political and cultural conflict, without sacrificing academics or civics. Give families a range of education options and the freedom to choose those that best fit their children’s needs and values. Floridians clearly want such choices: More than 40 percent of taxpayer-funded K-12 students in Florida don’t attend schools in their district (it’s more than 70 percent in Miami-Dade). Vouchers, scholarships and other aid provide equal opportunities.
This approach continues to promote the ideal of public investment in education for all, without limiting it to a single delivery system unsuited to modern society.
Scott Kent is Deputy Director of Strategic Communications for Step Up For Students, Florida’s largest scholarship funding organization.