Education is a choice — such as what car or groceries to buy, but with higher stakes. America’s 56 million students, and their parents, are the consumers. The more that parents can select schools based on values and needs — without income or zip code restrictions — the more we’ll see the power of parent consumers in action.
That’s a positive power. And during a school year disrupted by COVID-19, we need it more than ever.
A few years ago, I heard this power described by the principal at a magnet school that had just been ranked the nation’s best high school by U.S. News & World Report. The principal spoke of the school’s academic excellence in tandem with the idea of families being conscious consumers who “bought into” their education choice. She said that when families and students actively choose a school, learning becomes something students want to do rather than have to do.
In other words, when families actively invest in an education choice, it advances the entire school community. In my work as president of National School Choice Week, I’ve consistently seen that to be true, at traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops. When parents are education consumers, it encourages schools to be transparent, creates more opportunities for kids, and forges innovative bonds among teachers, parents, and community organizations.
Choice also allows families to match education to their personal learning values. For instance, in Florida, Arizona, Idaho, and other states with flexible open enrollment laws, families can select the best school fit from an array of free public options. This allows families to choose from various locations, school cultures, and extracurricular offerings—the very non-test score factors that parents care just as deeply about as academics.
This January 24-30 is National School Choice Week, a weeklong public awareness effort that encourages families to learn about all types of education and truly engage in their school choice. You can join the effort and learn about your state’s options at schoolchoiceweek.com. After all, making a school decision, and staying involved in it year-round, is one of the most powerful consumer decisions you’ll ever make.
Andrew Campanella is president of National School Choice Week and the author of “The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child.”