Freedom of Choice: Traditional Public Schools vs. Public Charter Schools

Photo credit: catalyst-chicago.org

Today I wanted a gyro for lunch.  I ran across a list of fast food restaurants in my mind and two stood out—one close to my home with average food and the other a couple of miles away with better food.  A decision had to be made—do I choose the restaurant with average food because it’s convenient or the one with good food because I’ll be satisfied and my money will be well spent?  Obviously, the latter was the best choice.

People face these same decisions every day.  Some may be as simple as where to eat lunch or where to attend school.  I remember having to make a similar decision when considering which high school to attend.  Growing up in Englewood, there weren’t many high quality options available in 1999 so I had to look outside of my community.  Luckily, I was a high achieving student and my grades allowed me the option to test and apply to selective enrollment and magnet schools.  Ultimately, I was accepted and made the decision to attend Kenwood Academy, which was one of the best decisions I could have made.

Unfortunately, everyone in my neighborhood did not have the same luxury to choose from high performing schools throughout the city and were stuck with what the neighborhood schools had to offer—until charter schools came along. So the same year I graduated from Kenwood, my nephew was headed to Urban Prep instead of Robeson—and that was the best decision he could have made.

This constant battle between traditional public schools and public charter schools vexes me at times because the arguments always manage to exclude parent and student voice.    Charter schools were created to give families an alternative option to traditional public schools without having to worry about their zip code, child’s test scores or tuition payments.  And the truth of the matter is if traditional public schools were consistently performing well, there would be no need for other options.  However, this “one size fits all” education system in Chicago that has failed many students has created a need for alternative options.   And many families took that option and ran with it.

Now I’m not saying that all charter schools out-perform or are better than every traditional CPS school because there are flaws and failures in every system and institution.  But, we cannot ignore the fact that thousands of Chicago families feel that charter schools offer their students something better—whether that be academics, recreation, access, learning or social environment, or tailored learning.  So why are people fighting so hard to eliminate their choice?

Denying people their freedom of choice is wrong.  It’s the same as telling people what they have to eat for lunch, where they have to go to college, who they can and cannot love, what religion to subscribe to, who to vote for, etc.   We have to stop letting politics and money supersede the best interests of families.  We have to abandon this mindset that one size fits all.  We have to believe and allow parents to make decisions that they feel best fits their families.  We have to stop telling people where they should spend their tax dollars.   And we have to stop muzzling the voices of those that need to be heard most.

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Tanesha Peeples

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