As a parent of eight scholars, I have been part of the charter community for nearly 17 years in Chicago. I have had eight children in four different schools at once, one of those being a neighborhood school.
Through the years one thing has become clear: Choosing the right school for your child has become increasingly more complex because the power of school choice no longer solely belongs to the parents.
Politicians, bureaucracies and advocates for the status quo continue to stand in the way of supporting diverse, high-quality options for all of Chicago’s families.
I remember when my daughter began kindergarten at Chicago International Charter Schools’ Prairie campus, enrollment was a seamless process. My friends, family and neighbors did not question my decision to enroll her and there weren’t any preconceived notions or myths about charter schools. Fast forward to the present day and aldermen are proposing a moratorium on new charter schools, the school district is closing charter schools without a strong oversight process, and inequitable funding still exists.
Looking at Fordham’s list of America’s best (and worst) cities for school choice it would appear that Chicago’s ranking at number 11 is a step in the right direction or some sort of an accomplishment. However, this ranking exists because over 50,000 Chicago families have continued to choose to send their children to charter schools, despite the obstacles I mentioned.
As more charter schools open—and provide a high-quality education for children in Chicago’s most needy communities—the more opposition families face. As a city we have lost focus on finding the right educational environment for each child and instead have focused on the bureaucracy of a school system that does not serve the needs of every family.
As parents, we know these schools are working for our children and we see this through their improved reading and math levels, social behavior and college-readiness skills.
This is fantastic, but unfortunately that is not the story we hear.
A school has to be a fit for my scholar, not just the nearest school that is available to us. These are the choices families have made—whether our children attend a magnet, traditional, charter or selective enrollment school—everyone wants a safe, quality environment for their child.
We need parents who believe every child has the right to access a high-quality education. We need to demand great schools in our communities and join organizations like Charter Parents United that represent parents who are simply seeking the best option for their child.
We need to get back to a place where our children’s best interest comes first and choosing the right school for each child is a priority. Only then will we see our school-choice ranking improve, but more importantly we will see our communities begin to transform due to a great education.