Expanding School Choice for ALL Students

January 24, 2016 |

This week marks the 6th annual National School Choice Week, a time when students, parents, school administrators, and education advocates gather to celebrate school choice, with meetings and rallies scheduled at the Texas Capitol and across the country. In past years, the majority of participants and media coverage have highlighted the role charters, home schooling, and vouchers play in school choice. But that’s not the full story of school choice in Texas.

According to the National School Choice Week website, “The goal of National School Choice Week is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and home schooling.

Being able to access different types of educational programs and learning formats is important to parents and students. Private schools and home schooling have existed for many years as alternatives to public schools. In Texas, open-enrollment public charter schools are a newer alternative, authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1995.

The vast majority of school-aged Texans — approximately 90% — still attend public schools (an additional 4% being public charter students). And every year, more independent school districts (ISDs) introduce policies and programs giving students and parents more choices.

Here are just some of the ways districts are opening doors to choice and access:

  • Open-enrollment: Students within a district may attend a school other than their zoned campus
  • Inter-District Transfers: Allowing students living outside district boundaries to enroll in district campuses
  • Magnet Programs/Academies: All students in the district may apply to specialized schools or programs
  • Virtual Courses: All Texas ISDs must have policies that allow students to pursue online courses not available at their campus through the Texas Virtual School Network
  • Dual Credit Courses: All school districts are required to provide opportunities for high school students to earn at least 12 hours of college credit. Many districts support coursework at local colleges or host college courses at a high school
  • Local Campus Charters: School districts can authorize their own charter schools or redesignate existing campuses to operate with the same flexibility as state charters
  • Special Transfer Circumstances: Even in districts that are not open-enrollment, students may request campus transfers for bullying, special education needs, sexual assault, and certain academic circumstances (PEG Program)

While some districts are successfully advertising innovative policies and programs through websites, events, and media partners, it’s critical for all schools and districts to share their choice options with community partners and the public.

Beyond enrollment zones and transfers, public school choice goes way beyond access to a different type of facility. Choosing a campus may be one possibility, or merely the first step.

Where public schools are really beginning to shine is in their ever-increasing array of innovative course and program offerings. Thanks in part to legislation like House Bill 5 (2013), which empowered families to choose graduation paths relevant to a student’s abilities and interests, and to courageous school and district leaders pioneering sweeping change, like Dr. Susan Simpson Hull in Grand Prairie ISD, the Texas public education system is taking strategic risks and thinking out of the box more than ever before. New and innovative approaches to program development focus on being responsive to parents, the community, and local workforce needs through courses and programs that truly engage student learning.

In the most innovative districts in the state, students are empowered to match their abilities and interests to cutting-edge magnet programs and academies, certificate programs, apprenticeships, and more.

Dr. Susan Hull
Superintendent, Grand Prairie ISD

In addition to charters, there are many examples of new and unique public school options across the state, but here are just a few:

Our latest stories, “District Sets Successful School Choice Example,” and “From STEM to STEAM and Beyond,” highlight the amazing impact of student-centered learning options for Texas public school students. 

As we consider the best way to improve the education system for all students, it’s important to note that choice for choice’s sake isn’t enough. We can’t ensure opportunities for every student to succeed without transparent data and clear accountability, which are lost with vouchers, education savings accounts (ESAs), and taxpayer savings grants. Only public schools have to serve all students, make educational decisions in a public forum, provide transparent financial records, and be graded under the same state accountability measures.

When choice leads to a permanent loss of available achievement data, we lose the ability not only to ensure taxpayer dollars are being well spent, but also to guarantee Texas students are being well prepared for postsecondary college and career opportunities.

And although we’re making progress in Texas public schools, select choice options and isolated innovative programs aren’t enough to prepare all 5.2 million Texas students for 21st century jobs. We need every campus in every district and charter to be strong. Equity in learning allows for an educated workforce and engaged populous. And when every student has the same quality of learning opportunities, then every parent truly has choice.

That’s why Raise Your Hand Texas works in all arenas of education reform to improve public schools. Our companion school choice blog describes why we believe advocacy, research, and proven programs are all essential to bridging the gap between average and amazing 21st century public schools.  

While some in the school choice world will try to co-opt the original intent of this week by focusing almost exclusively on vouchers and alternatives to public schools, Raise Your Hand Texas instead is celebrating and encouraging the expansion of public school choice, the rising breadth of options for students, and the embrace of innovation in Texas schools.

Join us in applauding these amazing efforts and help us encourage all Texas districts to provide student-centered opportunities that will prepare our students for successful futures in Texas and the world.

Does your district offer school choice options or an innovative program that has had an impact on you, your child, or your community? Please share with us!

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