Why Parental Choice is Essential
Educators have long acknowledged the importance of individual differences in the learning process. Yet when it comes to allowing parents to choose a school that they alone believe best meets the unique needs and interests of their children, there seems to be little agreement. I was reminded of this after reading about P.S. 364, a public K-5 school in the East Village of New York City ("A great school, against the grain," New York Daily News, Oct. 2).
The Earth School, as it is known, has a student population that is some 50 percent black and Hispanic who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, and 23 percent who receive special education services. Yet it has established a unique reputation closest to Finland's schools, which are ranked No. 1 in the world for quality by UNICEF. It provides a nurturing atmosphere for all children, where they are allowed to maximize their potential. Parents are partners, who are always welcome in the classrooms. Assessment is done by teacher-created tests, rather than primarily by standardized tests. There is no heavy emphasis on technology, behavior modification, and test scores.
These impressive facts would seem to make it an ideal choice for all parents. Yet the Earth School is definitely not for everyone. The Earth School, which is a great fit for some children, could be a disaster for other children. That is precisely why parental choice is so important. I'm thinking now of Summerhill School in Suffolk, England. In the 1960s, its open style was hailed by many educational theorists as the answer for all children. But its lack of discipline and structure even then was controversial. The debate continues today. As much as I support traditional public schools, I believe that parents alone should determine which school is a good fit for their own children.