Letter | Zais asks mother, parents, to work for school choice

03/17/2014 2:08 PM

03/17/2014 2:09 PM

A parent in Conway recently wrote to me. She explained that her daughter’s school is not a good fit and that the little girl is suffering because of it. This is my response to that mother.

“Madam: I understand your frustration. One thing every parent understands is, ‘while every child is special, every child is different.’ They differ in ability, motivation, the rates at which they mature, their interests, their skillset, their personality, their aspirations, and their home environment.

“Despite these enormous individual differences, our traditional model of school puts every child in the same classroom and expects them to learn the same material, on the same schedule, in pretty much the same way.

“This is a one-size-fits-all, factory-like, assembly line model that ignores individual differences and focuses on ‘seat-time’ rather than mastery. It’s a system based on mass production and standardization rather than on personalization and customization. It’s school-centered rather than student-centered. It focuses on inputs: what’s taught, how it’s taught, and how many hours it’s taught, rather than on outputs – what the student knows and can do.

“The surprising thing is that it works for most students. But for far too many, it produces boredom and disengagement or frustration and failure.

“ That is why parents should be able to choose from a menu of options when selecting a school that best fits the needs of their child. This menu might include the following: traditional schools, public charter schools, virtual or online schools, single gender programs or schools, year-round schools, Montessori programs, arts-infused schools, home schooling, faith-based schools, alternative schools for struggling students, schools that focus on special needs children, schools focusing on technology and career preparation, military schools, magnet schools, and schools focused on math and science.

“Sadly, almost everything in public education is free, with the exception of the rights of parents to choose where, how, and by whom their children are educated.

“Please join me in being a vocal advocate for empowering parents to choose a school that meets the needs and aspirations of their child.”

The writer is the South Carolina Superintendent of Education.

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