Having grown up in New Jersey, I've always been thankful for the great education I received. I had the privilege of going to wonderful public schools. However, not every Jersey boy has shared my experiences — as cities like Trenton and Newark struggle to provide local students with a quality public education.
This unfortunate situation is certainly not unique to the Garden State – it impacts school districts and children across the country. In New York City, just next door, a record 217 public elementary and middle schools received such poor rankings that they are in danger of closing completely. No child deserves this, which is why young people strongly support the idea of empowering parents with choice in education.
The idea of school choice is simple – if parents and students don't like the failing school they are stuck in, rather than accepting failure, they are empowered to choose an effective, well-run school where a quality education is possible. If you don't like the coffee you get at one place, go somewhere else. Same principle.
Without choice, families have little opportunity to get their child into a quality-performing school, with many students doomed to receive a poor education – ultimately limiting their ability to succeed and provide for themselves and their loved ones. Indeed, a quality education is critical to sustain a cutting-edge workforce that is able to compete in the global economy. It's a local challenge with national implications. It affects the daily lives of so many, as well as the economic vitality of the nation.
To show the effectiveness of school choice, let's revisit my home state for a minute. According to a study released in November by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "students in New Jersey charter public schools on average make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics compared to their traditional district school peers."
Stanford and New Jersey are not alone in these findings. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a study in late 2011, which found that students from low-quality neighborhood schools in North Carolina who win lotteries to attend a school of their choice are more likely to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree. (Lotteries are often put in place because there are too many families trying to participate with only a limited number of openings.) It also found that these students are about twice as likely to earn a degree from an elite institution after graduating from high school.
Young people with families, along with future moms and dads, should take particular interest in this issue as it directly impacts their children and opportunity for a better life. While I’m 25 and don’t have my own family yet, I can’t wait to start a family and be a father. I cannot even imagine sending my son or daughter to a school that was unsafe, in bad condition, and performing poorly like so many families deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Given the meager status of so many public schools, we at Generation Opportunity, a national, non-partisan youth advocacy organization for 18-29 year olds, are proud to partner with National School Choice Week (January 27-February 2) as we participate in a tour and forum on school choice at a Washington, D.C., area public charter school, as well as Virginia’s 2013 School Choice Day at the Capitol in Richmond.
We understand the link between education and economic opportunity, which is expressly why Generation Opportunity has strongly supported school choice as one of our core issues. Thus, we support initiatives around the country that are working to put this idea in action. For example, in 2011 we worked in my home state to urge passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill built around bipartisan support in the state legislature that would provide parents and children more choices in where students go to school.
It’s the bipartisan nature of this issue that adds to its uniqueness and appeal to people my age. My generation doesn’t see the world as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents - we are simply interested in getting things done.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, a millennial himself, embodies this passion. He doesn’t care where you come from politically – he wants to advance school choice.
That’s why we at Generation Opportunity applaud both Republicans, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Democrats, like Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who are all working to open up opportunities for parents and students.
Each generation’s task is to leave the next generation better off than they were. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, think about how much better off the next generation of children would be if they were given the opportunity to attend a better school.
All they really need is a choice.