Most people believe in public education. We understand that a well-functioning society needs an educated citizenry. But what is public education?
Public education is an idea. It is the idea that all kids, whether wealthy or poor, deserve to have access to an educational system that will equip them for life; a system that will enable them to achieve to the highest levels. Yet for some reason, we have come to equate the idea of public education with the standard system of delivering public education, traditional school districts.
Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast event at KIPP Inspire Academy. The featured speaker was Mike Feinberg, one of the founders of the original KIPP school in Houston (see him here on Oprah). Feinberg pointed out that the traditional method, where we draw attendance zones around schools and assign students to those schools, is not “god’s gift to public education.” We have not miraculously found the very best way of delivering public education. Traditional school districts are only one method of delivering education to students and that method leaves families with very few options.
All schools, whether public, charter, homeschools, or private can be part of the idea of public education. Because all schools that educate students are contributing to the public good.
Some people want to pit school choice against “public education.” The truth of the matter is that school choice is liberating public education. School choice is about giving the public more say in where their kids go to school. It is about making schools accountable to families, not the government. After all, the idea of a high-quality public education should not be limited to attendance zones.