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What happens to the kids left behind?

On a recent family trip to Canada, I came across an article in The Globe and Mail about the increasing number of Canadian parents who are choosing “niche” schools for their children. These niche schools are the American equivalent of charter schools – i.e. schools within the public education system that have unique programs aimed at different student demographics and needs, and often require some sort of selection process for admittance. The article caught my interest for two reasons: 1) as a true-blue ERS associate, I can’t help but think about the world’s education issues - even while on vacation, and 2) my family is in the process of deciding which education route we will take with our toddler; either to go for more specialized offerings through private or charter schools or take our “chances” with the public education system by moving to an affluent neighborhood.

I identified with the parents in the article who dearly want their children to succeed academically and desire the choice to decide in which environment that happens. I most particularly identified with the parent, Annie Kidder, who, when she decided to enroll her daughter in a specialized arts school, stated, “I became a self-hating yuppie . . . you look around and everybody is the same, basically. They talk a lot about social justice, but when you look at who’s there, we’re a very exclusive bunch of people.” Ironically, Ms. Kidder’s inner struggles came about because she works for an education advocacy group that wants the Canadian public education system to be a model of social diversity. I, too, desire my children to experience life in environments that exposes them to, and celebrates, the diversity that the world has to offer. I just don’t know if I’m willing to sacrifice their educational potential for those experiences.

As I pondered the article, I came to two conclusions:

  1. I am a staunch proponent of school choice. As a parent I want to decide and choose where and how my children are educated without anyone or anything limiting my ability to do so.
  2. I will always strongly advocate for and work towards improving the public education system because there are children whose parents do not have the resources to take advantage of the choices available to them. Just because I can send my daughter to private or specialized schools does not mean the mother who cannot do the same has to settle for less in the quality of education her child experiences.

I have a quote by John Dewey and Ron Edmonds on my desk at ERS that says, “What the wisest and brightest parent wants for his/her child, the entire community must want for every child.” Regardless of where you and I are on the school choice debate spectrum and whether the plethora of charter schools is a good or bad thing, we must never forget that there will inevitably be some children left behind in schools that others are exiting. Do they deserve less because their parents can’t get them out? No. Our work here at ERS is about making sure that whatever school environment our children find themselves in, they and their parents are confident that they are getting the best education possible. Want more? Check out some ERS resources.


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