The Expanding Voice of Choice

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For BASIS.ed, school choice is anything but political, and talking politics when we talk about our schools, or any schools, is a non-starter. Our schools are just schools, and aren’t the emblem of a political movement. Our mission is our mission, and it’s the same for every family and every student in every one of our classrooms. Thus, for BASIS.ed, school — and school choice — is about education, and children, and nothing more. And that’s important to keep in mind during the coming week, when the educational discourse may get a bit political outside of our cozy realm and across the country.

National School Choice Week kicks off today, January 26, 2015, and runs through Saturday. The week of education buzz and chatter, events and celebrations, and insight and information has grown tremendously in just four short years: the first School Choice Week in 2011 had about 150 events across the nation; this year there will be 11,000 events nationwide, starting with students from a New Jersey charter school ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning.

It’s a great time for garnering more information about issues having to do with school choice, what it can mean for families and their children and – here’s the news flash – why the issue is not political, even though so much of what you read about it, and where you read it, comes through a political lens.

Indeed, there is an ever-expanding voice for choice, across demographic and partisan lines.

Of course, we at BASIS.ed work far from the political sphere, but as School Choice Week begins, that sphere, and the diversification of school choice proponents, is an interesting nugget to digest.

We know that charter schools and school choice are often associated with Republicans and the right, ranging all the way back to the 1950’s and a Milton Friedman essay which introduced the concept of school vouchers. But when charter schools began in earnest in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton was an early supporter, and in 2011 he received the first-ever lifetime achievement award from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. The ping pong rally of educational planks in local and national political contests continues to this day, as educational pandering is among the easiest and most readily available tools of the politically expedient pol. Indeed, the ideals behind choice have been supported by members of both parties right up through… well, now: when the U.S. Senate passed a recent resolution of support for School Choice Week, co-sponsors included bedfellows as mixed as Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Dianne Feinstein. Do they each believe that parents want the best for their kids, and deserve to decide how their children are educated? I would bet that they do.

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So, in thinking about what “choice” means, there’s room for parents everywhere, and liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike. Indeed, in our experience at BASIS.ed, we find supporters, parents, employees and advocates from left, right and center; I’m quite sure we employ and educate Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and Independents. Our Heads of School and the folks roaming our BASIS.ed hallways are as far from politics as snowstorms are from surfboards; they are pro-education.

Thus while school choice is viewed via politics, there are advocates for its purposes in both aisles. While BASIS.ed manages charter and independent schools that fall in the “choice” column rather than merely managing excellent schools, it does so away from the unfortunate politicization of education, and – ahem – we see ourselves as people who merely manage excellent schools, and aren’t making a political statement for or against anything (other than on giving students the best possible schooling according to our internationally benchmarked STEM-focused liberal arts curriculum). We are away from the fray. We are an apolitical entity, with “great education” our sole purpose.

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Further, whether we know it or not, the vast majority of Americans are proponents of school choice.

Beyond the polling numbers (which I’ll get to momentarily), but as an idea, we all want the best school and the utmost educational opportunity for our children. Any family which has chosen a home by investigating the school district in which it resides is supporting the idea of school choice, and benefiting from the ideals behind it. Just because the politics of choice have been debased by dogma and simplified by naiveté, doesn’t mean that choice’s public policy purpose is that far off from what parents want, students deserve, and schools – of any kind – are ultimately working toward.

As for those poll numbers – yes, more and more Americans believe in school choice as well. The American Federation for Children released a new poll last week, in which 69% of Americans support the concept of school choice, and 76% support public charter schools. Again — these are across-the-spectrum numbers from a nonpartisan polling firm (Beck Research), and the American Federation for Children’s executive counsel is Kevin Chavous, a Democrat and former Washington, D.C. city council member.

We are in new territory here – with majority support, 6,500 charter schools and 2.5 million American kids attending those schools.

Being in this new, friendly and getting friendlier place doesn’t change what we do or how we do it – and our work is about each of our students, no matter how many, and no matter the politics of the day surrounding the educational sphere. Indeed, we have felt vast support since the first BASIS school opened in 1998. But as School Choice Week kicks off, we thought it worth mentioning – and it’s nice to acknowledge support from across the political and ideological spectrum. We know school choice has been anything but simple for many people, and presented in ways that mark differences, rather than similarities. But for our many diverse supporters and colleagues – who don’t agree on everything, but don’t have to – it’s meaningful to note this week that the chorus in favor of choosing a great education like ours is growing louder and stronger still.

Should you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at BASISedBlog@basised.com.