Give Us a Choice, and We’ll Take It from You

Give us a choice, and we’ll take it from you.

This could be the motto of the education reform movement that has gripped Colorado and the nation.

I know because I am part of the problem.

I fell for school choice when the idea was nearly unheard of. In 1991, miserable after two years at Merrill, I heard an announcement that changed my life.

There was going to be a new arts school opening with theatre, creative writing, visual arts, and music. To me, it sounded like a dream.

I spent two weeks preparing for my audition.

And, even though my family thought I was crazy, I took the bus every day that fall and for the next five years to attend Denver School of the Arts, located in the low-income Cole neighborhood.

What did I learn at my school of choice? I learned that it takes a village, led by amazing teachers, to put together a literary magazine. A theatre production. A music concert.

And that village could include kids whose experiences and faces and belief systems looked and sounded nothing like my own. And that art could provide a guttural release of emotion more meaningful to me than anything I’d experienced in education. And that the “low-income” village included the most tenacious, beautiful people I would come to love.

That is why, twelve years after graduating from Denver’s premier school of choice, I bought into the idea of charter schools. An 80/20 bilingual pre-IB program starting as young as kindergarten? Sign my daughters up!

My fifth grader getting bullied at the regular school? Let me put her in the super-structured, flawless-reputation charter network where culture is king. Let her sister follow her.

Let us white privileged parents with the ability to chauffeur our children choose their schools for them.

School choice is all about privilege. I have the privilege, as a highly-educated, middle-class white woman, to send my kids to a charter school. To sift through school ratings. To take over something that was intended to bring better schools into “bad” neighborhoods, and, upon seeing their successes, the privileged flocked to.

And the schools? They run the gamut of success stories piled on top of failures. They pay teachers so minimally that the majority leave the profession within five years. They are plagued with mismanagement of funds and classrooms. They are run by people who have no experience in an educational setting and by people who want “something better.”

But I’ll tell you what’s better.

Not having the choice. A regular public school in every neighborhood that meets the needs of every student. Teachers with decent salaries who love the diversity of where they work and paychecks that help them sustain their families.

And a district willing to see that the phrases education reform, charterization, and school choice are synonyms for privilege.

You gave us a choice. In turn, we privileged took that choice away from those who needed it most.

This needs to stop. Now.

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