Public School Districts Fight Back Against Privatization With District-Based, All Public “Schools of Choice”

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The myth is that charters “own” innovation. I don’t buy the myth. In the K12NN FAQ Wiki, I’ve gathered too many examples of 100% public schools that are truly public inside and out –  democratic governance mechanisms for the internal and operational affairs of the school and with outward public accountability to taxpayers in all things budgetary — I want to highlight as a Best Practice a Texas school district that’s figured out how to do innovation right.

In Grand Prairie ISD Offer School Choice for Parents and Students, we see a Texas school district that has re-organized itself and created mini-academies and themed/specialty curriculum at the various neighborhood K-12 schools in the district. They lay out their thinking behind concept schools here:

The school of choice model offers parents what they have been asking for — to choose a pathway of education for their children. The schools of choice are concept schools that offer students an extension of traditional curriculum, providing students academy options with specialized focus. Under this model, parents and students can choose the type of educational experience that best fits the needs of the individual student. If a student shows a propensity for leadership, fine arts, or math and science, GPISD offers “schools within schools” to advance those interests and skills for their children while also offering traditional schools.

The district anticipates adding more schools of choice in 2014 with additional pilot programs and increased emphasis on advanced academics. These [fully public --eds. note] schools provide many of the benefits and innovation that parents had previously turned to charter schools and private schools to access. The GPISD schools of choice model offers parents the same focused curriculum of charter schools and private schools, but with the accountability structure and access to state of Texas-certified/highly qualified educators required of public school districts.

Students with an artistic bent can elect to attend a public school that emphasizes arts instruction. Students more suited to STEM subjects still get art in their public school, but have opportunities to delve more deeply into STEM subjects with teachers who are prepared and trained to push these motivated kids farther. And so on, with a range of interests and “multiple intelligences” accounted for. As a parent, doesn’t this make your heart sing?

Why is this a model of success? Because GPISD is customizing its approach and offering differentiation in theme and style of instruction so that parents can better tailor a school to a child’s interests and learning styles. And most importantly, this flexibility on the part of the school district ensures that families can get their needs met if they have special ed, ELL, or are of low-SES backgrounds in the ways that are clearly within decades of law guaranteeing educational equity in public schools. Families don’t set out to flee the public schools for charters — like this particular parent, they struggle along until they can’t and need a new solution for their particular child.

But wise public school districts, ones not ready to cede all innovation to private schools, flex to accommodate the reality that a one-size-fits-all education is increasingly irrelevant to our diverse and multiply-intelligenced, many-abled children.

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7 Comments

  1. Tracy Marander - January 11, 2013, 1:02 pm

    The Tacoma Public School District in Tacoma Wa is a great example of public schools being innovative. We have 2 Montessori schools (one PS-5, and one PS-8), an arts based elementary school (Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, PS-5), SAMI (Science and Math Institute, 9-12, located in Pt. Defience Park), SOTA (School of the Arts, 9-12) . Jason Lee Middle School is in collaboration with Hilltop Artists, glass blowing is offered during and after school hours at the school itself.

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      admin - January 13, 2013, 11:07 pm

      I love hearing these positive examples! We need to hear when our schools and districts get it right, and be vocal in drawing attention to it.

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  5. Randy Traweek - March 24, 2013, 1:02 am

    What about the student who likes art, but there is no room left in the school because so many children fancy themselves artists? Do children (or anyone else, for that matter) win lotteries? What about the science fanatic who cannot play on the football team because the “science school” is far from home and he/she has to get on the bus immediately after school? Does the science school even have a football team? Does the art school have a volleyball team or cheerleaders? How much do children lose because as soon as school is over, they have to take the bus home instead of hanging out with friends, having access to tutoring, and participating in extracurricular activities? Simple solutions are always wonderful while thinking simply. Problems arise when thinking completely. All too often “school choice” does not mean the student or parent chooses the school. All too often “school choice” means exactly what it says. It means schools choose.

    As Parents Across America is fond of saying, “When schools choose, kids lose.”

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