One-size-fits-all doesn’t work very well when it comes to things like clothing. Just imagine the results if a UNM football player and petite Flamenco dancer tried putting on the same outfit. That same concept, of personalized options, should apply to an even more important topic than one’s wardrobe: Access to a quality education. National School Choice Week reminds us that every child will have the best chance to succeed if parents can select the option that fits best for their sons and daughters.
Unfortunately, the present educational system does not work well for many New Mexico families. Results from the Nation’s Report Card show dramatic disparities in educational performance. As a minority-majority state, New Mexico has a wide gap in reading and math scores with significant deficiencies between minority students and their non-minority peers. The gaps have been a constant educational disadvantage for over two decades.
However, school choice can work to close these achievement gaps, empowering parents to select from many quality educational options. With each child having unique talents, interests and methods of learning, families can find the school option most responsive to their individual needs.
New Mexico offers parents several school choice options. Families in some districts can participate in open enrollment, attending public schools outside their assigned neighborhood. There is a robust system of charter schools, publicly funded institutions whose charter gives them more flexibility than traditional neighborhood schools, but also more accountability to parents for results.
New Mexico also has district magnet schools offering focused curricula in a particular area, like science or the arts. Free online options for those interested in virtual learning are also offered as another opportunity to receive an education. For families who want to send their children to private schools, there are many differing private educational options. Additionally, many families may decide that home schooling is their best choice. Given that one size doesn’t fit all, New Mexico has numerous educational options for students and families from which to choose.
Even though I work for New Mexico’s state charter school association, I recognize that not every student wants to attend – or even belongs in – a charter school. If charter schools work for your son or daughter, great; we love to teach them. But if you find another option that better suits your child’s personal needs, by all means, please choose it – because New Mexicans will all end up better off if you do.
During this week, National School Choice Week, parents, teachers, activists and students will attend more than 50,000 events and activities throughout the United States and here in New Mexico. These events will celebrate the faces and stories behind school choice, showcasing how personalized learning options have helped millions of American children.
As a longtime educator, I believe passionately in the cause of school choice, because every child – in New Mexico and across our country – deserves the chance to succeed. By giving parents choices that best meet their children’s needs, every child can receive the quality education that represents a stepping stone to success in life.
Just as we wouldn’t ask a Flamenco dancer to wear a football player’s uniform – or vice versa – we shouldn’t ask our children to learn and grow in an environment ill-suited to their needs. Instead, let’s embrace school choice for each family and child, to give all New Mexicans access to a brighter future.
Kelly Callahan is a former charter school principal and has extensive experience regarding school choice and educational options.