The movement for greater choice in education now has a surprising ally: the rapper and promoter Pitbull. Best known for dance floor anthems such as “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” and for repping Kodak, Dr. Pepper, and Bud Light, Armando Christian Perez now finds himself in a different kind of spotlight: giving the keynote address to the National Charter School Conference in Washington, D.C.
In his address, Pitbull explains that his support for charter schools — which include specialized nonprofit schools and regular public schools given varying amounts of discretion over how to operate — stems from his own experience in public schools as well as that of his children’s in charter schools. He recounted to the audience his gritty story of bouncing from school to school and how his mother struggled to ensure he received a quality education, highlighting the cruel choice that the law puts parents in: obey the law and send their child to an inferior school, or break the law in an attempt to give their child a better education. He later explained to reporters that three of his children are enrolled in charter schools, stating “I believe in the system….I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Pitbull believes in charter schools so much that he has even become involved as a consultant with a sports-management-focused charter school called “SLAM (Sports Leadership and Management) Charter School” located in Miami, where Pitbull hails from. The school will be run by Miami-area charter school operator Mater Academy and the national charter school organization Academica.
Pitbull’s public appearance supporting charter schools will hopefully further increase the social cache charter schools hold. America’s public school system is notoriously flawed, and while the problems plaguing our school system are numerous and complex, the best institutional reform is to increase the diversity and choice of educational opportunities.
Diversity of approach matters because not all students learn the same way or at the same rate. Different approaches will work better for some, and not as well for others. In order to maximize the effectiveness of our education, we need to make different educating styles available to more students. Unfortunately, the current public school system is extremely bureaucratic and influenced by national, top-down forces. Even at the local level, there are entrenched interests who fear the disruption to the status quo variety would cause.
Choice matters because without it, parents are extremely limited in where they can send their students. Most people are limited by circumstance and the law to send their children to the school in the district of their residence, which is often not the best option they would have could they choose. This is especially damaging in poor areas, and serves as one of many broken rungs in the ladder to escape poverty.
Charter schools, which range from fully public schools to nonprofit schools that receive public money, incorporate both choice and diversity in that they allow people with a specific vision and those most closely involved with students (parents, teachers, administrators in the local community) to tailor-make educative approaches, and that charter schools are open to all and attended by choice.
As Pitbull explained in his speech, charter schools are ultimately about increasing the freedom of America's children and parents, both in the sense of the choice of where to attend and the opportunity to receive better education (and ultimately, to have more opportunities in life).
It is truly astounding that in a time where we have realized the benefits of variety and choice in almost every kind of product and experience, we are still set on a severely limited, one-size-fits-all approach to public education. But if we listen to Pitbull the parent in addition to Pitbull the rapper, the understanding of the benefits of school choice will likely grow.