Only one key can unlock the future to a quality economy in Pennsylvania: education. While our Commonwealth stood as the proud home of the world’s first modern oil well and industrial giants such as Bethlehem Steel, our future in a 21st century economy based on global commerce will rise or fall on the technical skills of our workforce. This National School Choice Week, we should reflect on the ways in which school choice can train the next generation of Pennsylvania workers.
Make no mistake: At present, the United States lags behind many of its foreign competitors when it comes to educational outcomes. The most recent international rankings, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), placed the United States 19th among 35 developed nations in science, 20th in reading, and a dismal 31st — fourth from the bottom — in math. While Pennsylvania’s statewide test scores rank slightly above national averages, the OECD study demonstrates the achievement gap between students in the Commonwealth and students in countries such as Canada, our neighbor to the north.
School choice can help narrow that gap, by providing access to higher quality and a greater number of, educational options. Because each child has unique interests, skills, and talents, school choice empowers parents to select the one best suited to their child’s needs, placing them in an environment that gives them the greatest chance to excel academically.
My organization represents another school option — charter schools, publicly funded institutions with a charter that grants more autonomy, but imposes more accountability compared to traditional schools. If charters don’t meet their obligations to their constituencies, they face closure — their charters themselves can always be revoked. And if charters are not doing their job, parents can take the kids out, whereas they often cannot remove their kids from a failing neighborhood school.
Our brick-and-mortar schools educate more than 100,000 students across the state, while our cyber charter schools teach another 35,000 students through virtual education.
Pennsylvania parents have shown a great hunger for these options. Our charter schools have thousands of families on their waiting lists. And the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, launched in 2012, has grown to provide thousands of families in certain “low-achieving” school districts with scholarships to fund tuition at the school of their choice.
National School Choice Week will see more than 40,000 events around the country the week of Jan. 20-26, all celebrating the hope and achievement school choice brings. Thanks to school choice, millions of families nationwide no longer have to face the heartbreak that sees their children consigned to failing schools. Even those schools are learning from charters that in order to stay competitive, they must innovate.
Across the Commonwealth, from Altoona to Allentown, and everywhere in between, families have benefited from school choice. Their successes will improve educational outcomes for our children, in ways that will benefit Pennsylvania’s society, and economy for decades to come. This National School Choice Week, let’s work to bring school choice to every Pennsylvania parent and family. The future of the Commonwealth deserves no less.
Ana Meyers is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.