School Choice: Let's Do Something Extraordinary as a Nation
As a nation, we have the opportunity to do something extraordinary.
It is something that will improve and strengthen our economy for years to come, generating nearly a hundred billion dollars in increased productivity each year.
It is something that can cut unemployment and increase wages.
And it is something that can increase citizen participation in elections and in civic affairs.
By increasing the number of high school graduates in America, we can do all of these things, and build a stronger country in the process.
High school graduates earn a quarter million dollars more over the course of their lifetimes than students without high school diplomas. Graduates are six times more likely to vote. They are significantly less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated. And they are far less likely to need government assistance.
The national conversation about education, especially during this year's presidential election season, has focused primarily on issues like early childhood education and the costs of college. These conversations are important, but we cannot ignore the fact that far too many kids are not completing their K-12 education and earning high school diplomas.
In fact, 19 percent of America's kids do not graduate from high school. In fact, studies have shown that one student drops out of school every 26 seconds.
But these "dropouts" are not just statistics. They are people. They are children who have potential, and who have dreams. They are individuals who want to do great things but, for whatever reason, were not challenged, motivated, or inspired to finish high school.
School choice -- empowering parents to choose the best K-12 education environments for their kids -- is the single best way to improve high school graduation rates.
Research has continually demonstrated that when parents actively choose education environments that meet the unique needs of their children, these children are far more likely to graduate from high school. Simply having choices and exercising them -- whether the choice is a traditional public school, public charter school, magnet school, private school, online academy, or home education -- yields graduation rates for kids that are between 7 and 28 percent higher than kids whose parents did not have or make these choices.
The good news is that more American families are actively choosing schools for their kids than at any other time in history. Almost every state now has an open enrollment program for traditional public schools, letting parents choose schools outside of their zones, as well as charter schools, magnet schools, and full-time online academies.
More than half of US state offer some sort of private school choice program, allowing qualifying families to access scholarships or tax deductions to make tuition more affordable. And parents everywhere can choose to educate their children in the home.
But roadblocks to opportunity still exist. More than 60 percent of parents say they wish they had even more choices for their children's education.
During National School Choice Week (January 24-30, 2016), tens of millions of Americans will join together to raise awareness of the options that parents have -- or want to be able to have -- for their children's education. With 16,140 events across the country, National School Choice Week will be the largest celebration of opportunity in education in US history.
This year, more than 1,050 local and state chambers of commerce are hosting meetings and events during National School Choice Week -- underscoring the business community's commitment to empowering parents and ensuring that all children have opportunities to succeed.
This is a good sign. It signals that business leaders, from small businesses to large companies, in big cities and small towns, know that when it comes to K-12 education, the stakes are high.
We must not forget that when we as Americans work together to solve big challenges, there's nothing we cannot do. That is the American way. And it is time for us to do something extraordinary: increasing America's high school graduation rates through school choice. Our next generation deserves our best efforts today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week.