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Why It Isn’t the Best Idea to Let Kids Choose Their School

Why It Isn’t the Best Idea to Let Kids Choose Their School

Students in Alabama hoping for more experienced teachers, better facilities and top-notch sports and arts programs may be able to get their wish simply by switching schools, thanks to a new bill signed by Governor Robert Bentley.

The bill renders school districts and boundaries obsolete by opening up enrollment in public schools to any students who want to attend, regardless of their address. The state will even provide tax credits to “parents who want to transfer their children from a failing public school to another public or private school” (NPR).

The controversy

The controversial Alabama Accountability Act has already been criticized for containing outdated information about what defines a “failing” school. One portion of the drafted bill, which would allow schools to choose which students they will accept, was omitted from the final version. Despite these flaws, the bill will likely be revised “after [it] becomes law, rather than hav[ing] Bentley send the bill back to the legislators” (NPR).

An unsettling lack of structure

Governor Bentley’s strong support of the bill is, to many, surprising. He tweeted, “For the first time ever, we’re giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students.”

But is that statement really true?

Yes, allowing students to attend any school, regardless of districts or boundaries, may benefit some students who are unhappy with their assigned school, or whose families feel that their housing choices are limited because of school boundaries. But overall, it seems that this purported “flexibility” could lead to overcrowded classrooms, depleted resources at desirable schools, and decreased educational opportunities as students pour into well-regarded districts.

Another concern is that low-income students who already attend failing schools and are unable to afford transportation to more distant, better performing schools will be left in the dust as more affluent classmates grasp for better educational opportunities.

Birmingham News political reporter Kyle Whitmire pointed out that the bill could cause “brain drain, that sort of concentrates your most challenged students in school systems that are already having problems” (NPR).

Typically, school system boundaries are only suspended for extenuating circumstances, such as in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when students in New York were encouraged to attend any school that they could physically get to. But generally, school boundaries are seen as a necessary part of our educational infrastructure, to ensure that student populations are (relatively) balanced and that everyone gets (pretty much) the same opportunities.

No doubt about it, there are huge differences in quality between individual schools in many areas of the country, and we need to continue to brainstorm ways to fix those inconsistencies. But creating what basically amounts to a free-for-all educational system is not the way to do it.


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Photo credit: AnotherPictureToBurn

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3:11PM PDT on Apr 9, 2013


9:16AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

thanks for sharing

10:00PM PDT on Mar 26, 2013

I think when a young child has to walk 13 blocks to school but one is closer, it's time to let them choose. Most schools, we can find some fault with.

1:21AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

Thanks for this article.

1:16PM PDT on Mar 22, 2013


10:22AM PDT on Mar 22, 2013

We have open enrollment here in AZ, it's working out great here.

8:11PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

This is the same deep South, congenitally stupid state that enacted the most stringent anti illegal immigrant bill in the nation a few years back only to be SHOCKED when most of their crops rotted in the field. This will be an absolute free for all train wreck that will result in the Federal Government taking over the entire state's educational system. You dumb crackers got any districts where they teach creationism, where Phyllis Schlafly has replaced Harriet Tubman or where abstinance only sex ed is the rule? Kiss them goodbye, you brainless, toothless neoconfederates!

3:31PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

It benefits both society and corporation to make it so.

3:30PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

A child should be able to attend their neighborhood school and be safe to walk back and forth to school and expect the same education from neighborhood to neighborhood. Schools throughout the country should operate the same, have the same criteria for teachers and a uniform curriculum, have all the necessary supplies provided; and specking of uniforms every child should be made to wear one; as simple as the same color shirt and pants/skirt. Why uniforms, because it is a big part of bullying and creating a class system among the students.

I won’t believe we are serious about changing our educational system until we make all teachers have Master’s Degrees, mandatory continuing education and pass competency tests at least every two years. I won’t believe we are serious until we pay teachers as well as any executive in the USA. I won’t believe we are serious about education until we make a stellar education a part of every single child’s life and rules that hold parents accountable to make sure their child is in school and progressing well. I won’t believe we are serious about education until we make our classrooms healthy, safe and fully equipped to encourage learning and all supplies necessary to learn are given to all students. I won’t believe we are serious about education until every child has a public education from Pre K to a Master’s Degree or vocational/technical training; paid for by taxpayer’s and corporate taxes. It

12:05PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

We have schools of choice in my state. The only thing it has accomplished has been certain wealthier schools entice atheletes from poorer schools. Schools of choice, charter academies etc. are a tool to the destruction of public education. In my state the inequities in school spending are damnable. The south is renowned for separate isunequal. This same mentality also pervades schools in the north. What chance does a child have of attending a upper level university when they are unable to get the classes necessary to get into said school. This is just another gimmick brought to you by certain political entities to ensure that certain groups get preferential treatment over another by claiming " We have schools of choice!" No child left behind should be renamed "most children will be left behind".

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