Public schools offer wide array of choice for students

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education on Tuesday released a research report it says “busts the myth” that America’s public schools don’t offer choices to students. The report was released at a Capitol Hill briefing that featured the Wichita USD 259 school district’s magnet schools program. 

NSBA says school choice advocates often accuse public schools of delivering a “one size fits all” education that doesn’t serve students well. Giving parents the ability to choose a school, critics say, will foster competition that will produce more variety and result in better options for students. The truth, NSBA says, is that public education is not the monolith its critics make it out to be. 

“Extraordinary activities and approaches occurs in public schools every day because school boards and school leaders continually devise and employ innovative approaches to help students succeed,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Thomas J. Gentzel. “The constant effort to enhance public education has produced an amazing array of learning opportunities spanning course selection, learning styles, and choice of school.” 

The “Busting the Myth” report is based on data from the Education Commission of States and the National Center for Education Statistics. Key findings are:

  • Public high schools are far more likely to offer Advanced Placement, gifted/honors and distance learning courses than private schools. 
  • Public schools are more likely to offer after school child care and tutoring or enrichment opportunities than private schools. 
  • Eighty percent of public schools have at least one part-time counselor compared to 32 percent of private schools. Counselors play a key role in student learning and care. 
  • The vast majority of public high schools offer access to hands-on college experience and 98 percent offer career preparation. 
  • The majority of public school students have the option to transfer to schools within their districts or neighboring districts. 

“The neighborhood public school remains the school of first choice for the large majority of families, as school districts offer a growing range of options in their efforts to better serve the different interests and needs of individual students,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education and author of the report. 

Terrell Davis, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Special Projects for Wichita USD 259, told the panel of Congressional staff and local and national media that 24 of Wichita’s 93 schools are magnet schools. The magnets are organized into four educational and career pathways: Communications, STEM and the Arts, Traditional College and Career Readiness, and Leadership/Citizenship. The district’s high school graduation rate has increased 12 points over the past six years, to 75.5 percent. 

Davis said 98 percent of USD 259 students who apply to one of the district’s magnet schools get into the school of their choice. Several of the magnets are neighborhood schools that also accept students from across the city, which increases the economic and social diversity in those schools. “Choice brings your community together,” he said. 

“We want to have enough programs so everyone finds an interest, finds a career path, gets certifications, makes connections and finds jobs. We want to make sure we are offering programs across the city and a quality education kindergarten through 12th to send them to postsecondary.”  

Davis’ fellow panelists were John Craig, associate principal of Haven Union High School in rural Hardwick, Vermont and Craig Plank, chairman of Richland School District Two, a suburban school district in South Carolina. 

The NSBA event was streamed live on the organization’s Facebook page and is archived there.  

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