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Parents Pull the Trigger in Compton and Nationwide

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Compton parents pulled the trigger this week by voting for a new educational option. According to the Los Angeles Times, parents at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif., are planning the first test of a new state law which allows parents to force reform in traditional public schools. The "parent-trigger" requires the district to bring in a charter operator or deliver a satisfactory reform plan.

"The only way to succeed is to bring about a radical and unapologetic transfer of raw power from defenders of the status quo to parents, because they're the only ones who care only about kids," said Ben Austin, a state board of education member and executive director, Parent Revolution, a nonprofit advising McKinley parents.

Parent's nationwide are exercising whatever options for better education they have available to them. More than half of U.S. parents exercise educational choice despite a system of local control designed to limit their options. A system designed to give voice to parents has in most cities turned in to an attendance-boundary bureaucracy, but most parents are still exercising options according to my friend Bruno Manno in a recent EdWeek editorial:

Policymakers continue to debate whether to expand or restrict the opportunity for all U.S. families to choose the K-12 schools their children will attend. Without fanfare, these families--especially low-income ones--have voiced their views. The result? A growing majority have voted with their feet to endorse school choice. Out of slightly more than 57 million K-12 students in the United States, nearly 52 percent, or almost 29.4 million, are enrolled in a K-12 school of choice.

You hear about charter schools, homeschooling, and online learning, but Bruno points out that the biggest category of choice are the families representing nearly 13 million students (an NCES estimate) that move to gain access to better schools--the "real estate choice."
Parents of another 9 million students access in-district choice or enroll their children in a charter school. Parents of 13 million students send them to private schools or educate them at home.

Here's Bruno's math (enrollments in millions):
• Real estate choice: 12.7
• District choice: 7.6
• Private school: 6.1
• Charter school: 1.7 (2.1 with waiting lists)
• Home school: 1.5
• Online courses: 1.5

I've predicted that learning at home (home educated plus virtual charter schools) will grow to almost 5 million by 2020. Charter schools will also serve close to 5 million students by 2020.

The emerging and radically scalable choice option is learning online. It would be possible starting in January to offer every high school student in America every Advanced Placement course, every high level math and science course, and every foreign language course; they would be taught by effective teachers using proven materials. This level of choice could be supported in 60 days by existing online learning providers but local and state policies prevent student access.

Behind our achievement gap (and now our financial gap), America has an education governance problem. Our patchwork of 14,000 school districts with school attendance boundaries often traps low income students in low performing schools--state accountability systems and federal policy interventions have done little to change that basic condition.

Now that anyone can learn anything anywhere, except for where prohibited by state policy, it's time to rethink how we provide public education in America. As the Digital Learning Council recommended last week, states should approve multiple statewide online learning providers. School districts should incorporate online learning into new blended formats that personalize learning and allow students to progress based on demonstrated competence.

Students and families deserve high quality choices--now. Parents have pulled the trigger--a majority of them now exercise choice. It's time for state policies to reflect parent demand and educational opportunity--it's time to make educational choice the norm not the exception.