Parents have more schools choices than ever, and that should be a good thing. But how good a thing that is depends deeply on two things: the quality of choices available and how informed the parent population is.
School choice is only a choice if parents are making informed options between quality schools. I say that as someone who attended eight schools growing up in Detroit. But it wasn’t because my mom was always making well informed choices, hopping from underperforming schools to better ones. No, it was due mainly to the transient nature of our lives. As my mother found new work or better rent, we moved, and whatever neighborhood school was nearby was where I ended up.
Today, there are still many Detroit families who change schools because of choices that have little to do with academic options. But the fact is that parents today do have more responsibility and opportunity to do better and consider than families 30 years go. The debate must extend beyond public or private, or public or charter. The truth is there are good schools – and very poor schools – in any model you consider. We should place children and their outcomes at the center and frame the debate around quality; then we should support schools that deliver it and help parents find those schools.
Our Foundation, which has worked in Detroit schools for more than 25 years, works with Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority, various public charter schools and private schools. Our interest is the same as parents: we want children to have the best education possible to them. So we place more value on what results the schools deliver than to who runs the schools. We encourage parents to do the same. We work to support measures that help schools of all types increase quality, from the public schools that educate just under half of the city’s children, to the newest charters. And we believe all schools should be held accountable by making available relevant and comparable data on how they’re doing. That’s becoming more common in Detroit, with the work of organizations like Excellent Schools Detroit, which released a report card on the best and worth K-8 schools, based on MEAP scores, this week. A fuller report is coming this summer.
As parents, we must think about these things when making a decision about where to send your child: What is the school’s academic track record? We have found schools that do academics well typically do support services and safety well, too. Next, question the marketing promises schools make and do your own research.
The Detroit marketplace is saturated with schools not at full capacity; they want your child in a seat. Make sure what they sell you about themselves stacks up to realty by visitingwww.excellentschoolsdetroit.org. Also, apply early.Because there aren’t enough high-quality schools, spots in these schools go fast.
Think about how the school is preparing students for a future that is more and more technologically driven. And finally, don’t be discouraged – if you need help, ask for it. Try a resource like the Detroit Parent Network, an organization that helps parents cut through the clutter and understand what options are available.
Tonya Allen is the Skillman Foundation chief operating officer and incoming president.