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Embracing the Future of School Choice

Empowering families through information on the educational options available is the foundation of true, change-making choice in learning

By Amy Valentine

Jemar was a 16-year-old high school student who had been suspended, and almost expelled, from school. He didn’t struggle with drugs or violence; instead, he was disengaged and disenfranchised in his learning. His last hope for graduation was transferring to an innovative blended school. Once there, not only did he thrive, but he rose to the top of his class and has since gone on to attend college and been appointed an Education Reimagined Fellow. He had―and exercised―agency, choice, and voice in his learning and therefore, he succeeded.

This is a prime example of the traditional application of school choice: a student following a pathway that has forever changed their life, in high school, through college and beyond.

Historically, “school choice” is a term that has a strong political charge and is driven, in large part, by state-based policies. Prior to the pandemic, most people in America were unaware that there was a movement to increase parents’ access to high-quality schooling options for their children. That is because in general, until a child struggles in school or a family has a life-altering event, exploring a different school based simply on its potentially better alignment with the child’s learning style wasn’t the norm. However, the pandemic is opening our eyes to the need for a broader definition of school choice―one that is a more encompassing definition based on choice in learning, no matter the context(s) in which it takes place. This definition must be:

One that has parents as the active decision-makers in this process. 

One that empowers everyone to explore the most suitable educational option available to them.

One that positions choice not as an “either/or” decision, but rather as a variety of options that can be combined in a way that is personalized according to the learner.

One that understands that the 21st century definition of school must consider it as an action rather than a location (schooling as a verb, not a noun).

One that takes into account that there is choice within schools now.

After all, what we are talking about is choosing the best learning environment for children, with the ultimate goal of increasing their engagement, agency, and success in becoming lifelong learners.

When COVID-19 hit, society gained a broader understanding of school as the action of learning taking place, versus the building or online context in which learning happens. Quickly, with this new meaning in mind, the previously established barriers and confines to creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in education were eradicated. 

But simply removing parameters doesn’t equate to purposeful innovation, so now is a prime opportunity to take our thinking a step further. The time to reconceptualize school choice is here. And it’s more than rebranding this concept. Instead, it is about leading the way toward more empowered parents who are actively involved in making well-informed decisions with their children about their K-12 educational pathway.

Perhaps it is Parent Choice.

Or the Future of Learning.

Or maybe Student-Centered Choice.

The title is not as important as sharing this out to empower families across America. 

The Future of School is being redefined, every day, in one constant way—choice. Administrators are making decisions on how to best run their schools, parents have been given multiple educational tracks for their children, and students themselves are embracing new ways of learning.

About Amy Valentine

Amy Valentine is the Chief Executive Officer and Education Evangelist of Future of School, a national public charity designed to support the growth of innovative school models integrating blended and online learning. Prior to guiding Future of School’s incubation and launch, Amy managed a portfolio of Colorado schools where she led academic and operational turnaround strategy. She also previously served as executive director for a network of Nobel Learning Communities schools in California.

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