In life, most people prefer having choices. For instance, some people prefer Coke while others like the taste of Pepsi. Just as we value having options when it comes to beverages, cars or computers, so, too, should families have choices for one of their most important decisions – where to educate their children. This National School Choice Week, we should remember the value of choice in the lives of New Mexico’s youth.
Data from standardized tests administered nationwide demonstrate why school choice can provide such an important boost to New Mexico students. Right now, under one in four eighth-grade students statewide – 24 percent – achieve proficiency in reading, and only one in five – 20 percent – achieve proficiency in math.
Moreover, New Mexico’s below-average test scores disproportionately impact low-income and minority students. Whereas 36 percent of white eighth-grade students achieved proficiency in math, only 15 percent of Hispanic students did. And low-income students whose families qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches performed an average of 25 points lower in eighth-grade math, and with much lower levels of proficiency – 14 percent for students eligible for reduced-price meals, versus 37 percent for those not eligible.
School choice not only works to provide opportunity to New Mexico families by giving all families access to a quality education, it promotes equality as well. In our state, school choice includes many charter schools – publicly funded institutions that operate with autonomy in exchange for higher accountability. School choice also includes specialized district magnet programs, virtual or online schools, home schooling options and open enrollment programs, which allow parents in some areas to send their child to public schools outside their traditional neighborhood school.
Why all these options, you might ask? First and foremost, because no two children are alike. With each child having unique talents, needs and interests, parents should have the ability to choose the quality educational option that will work best for their sons and daughters. Moreover, given our state’s poor performance compared to our peers, New Mexico children need every opportunity they can to increase their levels of academic achievement.
During National School Choice Week, parents, teachers, supporters, and students will gather at more than 40,000 events around the United States running from Jan. 20-26. These events will show the enthusiasm across the country for school choice, because of the hope – and the achievement – it has provided to millions of young people.
Here in New Mexico, we will hold a special event in conjunction with National School Choice Week. Our school fair at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Wednesday will showcase a variety of schools, and just some of the many school-choice options available to parents. This fair provides a great opportunity for interested families to explore the unique educational possibilities that school choice can provide.
Parents concerned about their children’s education, or interested in other options, should come by our fair if they live near Albuquerque, or look into school choice programs in their area. We’re always happy to provide more information to interested families and help them navigate the process. Choosing a school may seem intimidating, but parents have many educational choices when it comes to providing a positive, rigorous education for their children.
As proud members of the school choice movement, we won’t rest until every family and every child has access to a quality education. This National School Choice Week, we encourage you and your family to join us and celebrate the achievement that educational choice can bring.
Kelly Callahan is a former charter school principal and has extensive experience regarding school choice and educational options.