America is not only the land of opportunity; it is the land of choice! No industry, sector, or business is immune from the disruption that is occurring due to the explosion of choices available in our digital age. Education is no exception. I assure you that we are wrestling with this age of choice as well. For a moment, however, I would like to explore the flipside of the choice issue. Instead of looking at how educational customers choose, let’s consider how institutions choose their students.
First and foremost, public schools do not pick-and-choose students. If a child lives in a school district, we must serve them by law, regardless of their physical needs or mental abilities. Whether they speak English or one of the nearly 100 languages spoken in our district. Whether a student can afford supplies or lunch or transportation or even has a home. We serve all students in our communities without regard to social status, race, sex, or creed. Other school models prefer to be more selective. They either choose which students to serve or how many students to serve – or both. Of course, charter schools and private schools serve students of all backgrounds, but they often struggle to serve students with special needs. In many cases, public schools also provide training and services to students in private schools. Federal laws require it, and thankfully so. Those students deserve the best education possible, too. Nevertheless, your local public school cannot pick-and-choose, nor would we . . .ever.
Picking-and-choosing kids for enrollment is not the only difference between school models. Keeping kids once they enroll is also a big difference. If things do not work out for a student in other schools, your local public school is always ready to take them back. For example, online virtual charter schools receive the entire year’s funding up-front. If a student must return to public school for any reason whatsoever, we welcome the student with open arms. Of course, the charter school keeps the entire year’s funding, but the public school still faithfully serves those children, even if they arrive after the funding deadline. Curiously enough, I have never heard of a charter school increasing enrollment after the funding cut-off date, but that certainly does not mean it does not happen.
I support parents’ choice. Picking-and-choosing schools is their prerogative because parents are always the most important educators in a child’s life, and nothing will ever change that. I am only concerned when institutions pick-and-choose kids without committing to them in the long run. Public schools do not have a choice, but again, we would never choose otherwise. Public school educators choose to work in public schools precisely because they feel called to serve all children. Public schools are perfect representatives of their communities, and the only way a community can rise is if all students rise as well. We do not wish to pick-and-choose because we do not look at people as winners or losers. We do not serve our community with a selective eye. Public educators would never agree to picking-and-choosing kids.
Critics of public education certainly do not have to look far for things to criticize. Public schools are not perfect, but neither is any school model. We are part of your imperfect, vibrant, and diverse communities in a country founded as a melting pot. I believe children grow stronger and truer when immersed in a setting that reflects their community. The public school of today is the workforce, church body, and leadership of tomorrow. We cannot afford to pick or choose which students we educate. We are public educators, and we welcome all, serve all, and love all.
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