I attended primary and secondary public schools in New York City. I attended public, private and parochial colleges and universities in New York. I served as a public school teacher, assistant principal, principal and superintendent in New York City. I taught in public and private colleges in New York. While I wholeheartedly support public schools, I also support school choice. My wife and I chose not to send our only child Atiya to public school. We opted instead to homeschool her because we were not satisfied with the limited options that the public school system offered.
Seventeen years ago, my wife and I toiled over what we knew would be one of the most important decisions of our lives. How would we educate Atiya? We thought we would either enroll her in private or public school. We decided to enroll her in a school that was Montessori-like. We soon learned that none of the teachers were trained in the Montessori method. We withdrew Atiya and enrolled her in another private school.
When she was given a first-year teacher who did not know her name and could not tell us about her progress after six months, we chose to take her out of that private school. We then contemplated enrolling her in public school. Our public school option was limited to one neighborhood school, which seemed ideal. However, the school had a lottery and a waiting list. It was a very popular K-2 grade school, ideal for our small-framed, precious child. When we realized that this school was not an option for Atiya, we decided to homeschool her rather than enroll her in a public school that we believed would not meet her needs or our expectations.
As two working parents, we exercised choice without concern for tax credits, vouchers or charters. This, I am certain, is the case for many parents who choose not to send their children to traditional public schools. However, there are parents who do not have the financial ability to similarly exercise choice. Unfortunately, many poor and uninformed parents are led to believe that a traditional public school is the only option they have or need. They are made to feel bad if they consider enrolling their children in schools outside of traditional public schools, including public charter schools.
When I served as a principal and superintendent, I was often asked how I could homeschool my daughter when I was a principal in a public school. My answer was simple: I have a right to exercise choice. I was never told, nor did I ever believe, that I was obligated to enroll my daughter in public school as a condition of my employment. While some believed our decision was contradictory, we saw it as an exercise in freedom. As citizens, we had a right not to enroll our child in a school system we believed was not good for her. We knew of individual schools that were probably good for her; however, it was nearly impossible to enroll her without pulling strings, which I refused to do.
Today, when it comes to school choice, many public school parents are confused and even misinformed by school and elected officials. They are further confused by the vortex that is created when business, politics, religion and education mix. Consider the following: Which of these choices is the best education option for New York’s children and families? (A) Charter, (B) Private, (C) Public, (D) Tax-Credit/Voucher or (E) All of the above?
All of the above could be correct. Why force parents to choose only one when a hybrid of approaches might produce the best of all possible worlds? If the current system does not work for the majority of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, which it does not, why continue to tinker with it under the guise of “reform” and “renewal”?
Here’s what we know. Public schools will not improve significantly in New York unless change occurs in Albany. The fate of more than 2 million children each year lies in the hands of legislators who fail to create laws and policies to help improve public schools, in part because of the stranglehold that unions have on them. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and teachers’ unions battle for control of the public school system, legislators nervously and strategically wait to see who will emerge as the winner. The safe bet is on the unions, because they will be around long after Cuomo leaves office.
With few exceptions, local politicians and public school officials remain relatively mute on public school choice. They dare not risk upsetting the status quo. They are afraid to take any position that would be opposed by the powerful teachers’ unions. This is a sad but true reality.
Ironically, many public officials, including school personnel, who limit school choice options for poor and educationally disenfranchised parents exercise choice for their families. Do not be fooled by officials who support public school as the only option because their children are enrolled in public schools. While this may technically be true, many of their children are enrolled in public schools that operate as private schools. It is easier to enroll in some exclusive private schools than it is to enroll in some of the elite public schools that their children attend.
As a parent of a homeschooled child, I thank God that my wife and I were not persuaded by people who have been brainwashed to believe that public school should be the only option. I encourage all parents to exercise the right to vote and demand school choice for their children. I also encourage members of the clergy to use their pulpits to inform parents about school choice.
Parents: Politicians and school officials depend on your lack of knowledge and complacency to continue their monopolistic public education system, which, by most accounts, fails hundreds of thousands of children annually. Do not be misled by Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rhetoric and believe that tinkering with schools will bring about real progress. When you change the system, you change the schools.
The governor, mayor and public officials share the blame equally, as do you if you continue to remain silent and uninvolved. Fight for your right to exercise school choice, and then stay involved throughout your child’s educational journey. Remember, people count on your absence to deprive and neglect your children with impunity!