Give the public what it wants: Customization

Count me among the fans of school choice who looked favorably upon this year’s results of the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll. (We’re a small group.) Yes, for two decades, the PDK/Gallup folks have all but guaranteed a negative response to the “voucher” question (“Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense;” which makes impoverished families who benefit from today’s voucher and tax credit scholarship programs sound like a special-interest group). But the poll points to an embrace of parental power elsewhere.

Consider:

  • A near super majority of public-school parents (63 percent) want their high school children to have an opportunity to earn credit in virtual school courses;
  • An overwhelming majority of all respondents and public-school parents (75 percent and 80 percent, respectively) favor opportunities for high school students to earn college credit over the Internet;
  • Ninety percent of respondents favor giving homeschooled children with special needs access to public-school services;
  • Eighty-one percent of public-school parents say that homeschooled children should have the opportunity to attend public school part-time; and
  • Eighty percent of all respondents say that homeschoolers should participate in public-school athletic programs and after-school activities (85 percent of public-school parents said the same).

The last point is an important revelation. “Tebow” bills have surfaced in some states, including Virginia, Texas, Indiana that would give homeschoolers a chance to participate in public-school athletics, just as NFL quarterback Tim Tebow had when he was a homeschooled student in Florida. But these bills have been attacked by many adult interest groups, such as the PTA, teacher unions, and superintendent associations. These groups killed a similar bill earlier this year in Virginia.

They have also successfully sued to stop the funding of customized online course options for public-school students in places like Louisiana, where “course choice” allowed students to shop around for subjects not available in their zoned public school.

But if teacher unions and other groups want us to take this poll seriously (and they do, at least when it comes to the opposition to school vouchers and other market-based reforms), then they need to lay down their arms when it comes to customizing a public education.

“It's time for policymakers to change course and listen to what the American people want for their schools," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a statement written after the poll was released.

When it comes to customization, I couldn’t agree more.

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