While the national discourse focuses on the merits of school choice initiatives in their own right and for their own sakes, as leaders of state and local education systems, as educators of diverse regional, political, and professional backgrounds, we believe that these policies are better thought of as means to critical ends, and that the goal of these and other education policies should be, above all else, the enhancement of skills for America’s youngest generation and expanded opportunity for children to thrive as adults.
We further believe that while education systems should be attuned to the needs of all students, including high-performing students and students raised in middle- and upper-income homes, policy makers must be particularly sensitive to the needs of student groups whose choices have historically been limited by law or by circumstance, including students of color, students raised in low-income homes, students with English language needs, and students with disabilities.
We believe that, by their nature, school choice initiatives have the potential to dramatically expand opportunity for disadvantaged American children and their families. Regularly in our country, access to high-quality schools has been defined by place of residence, ability to afford tuition, disability status, and previous academic achievement. Expansion of school choice rights to more American families has the potential to break down these unfortunate and unnecessary barriers. Moreover, a meaningful amount of school choice is an essential ingredient for any system to stay innovative, vibrant, and responsive to the families and communities it exists to serve.
As a result, the school systems we oversee have implemented a wide variety of school choice initiatives, all at large scale. Our experiences implementing school choice programs of such magnitude lead us, in evaluating any proposal for the expansion of school choice, to require critical assurances.
The first is an assurance of fairness in enrollment and admissions. The poor, the disabled, English language learners, and the academically struggling should be given clear and unambiguous rights to enroll in all schools, and schools should be obligated to serve them and held accountable for serving them well.
The second is an assurance of quality. The goal of expanding access to quality schools will not be achieved if policies entail no means of verifying learning in ways that are transparent, unambiguous, and comparable from one school to the next. What’s more, absent enforceable standards of quality, we fear that the enormous potential of school choice initiatives for the many will be corroded by the bad actions of a few.
Lastly, there must be an assurance that funding for school choice initiatives results in an equitable distribution of resources across participating schools, with those schools serving students with the most intensive needs receiving resources proportionate to that challenge.
These assurances, far from hindering the expansion of options for families, catalyze the expansion of quality school choices and provide for their sustainable management and governance at great scale.
We – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, education leaders from every region of the United States – urge that more be done to make options available to the millions of young people currently confined to schools that daily frustrate their ability to learn. We believe that school choice policy should be considered a means of expanding the opportunity to attend a verifiably high-quality school for those historically less likely to be granted such an opportunity. Therefore, we also urge that any policy expanding school choice rights include a strong commitment to quality, equitable access, and equitable resources as essential elements in our vision for an American education system worthy of the public trust and the families it serves.
About Chiefs for Change:
Chiefs for Change is a coalition of state education Chiefs and district superintendents dedicated to excellence and equity for all students. Chiefs for Change members lead education systems serving 5.3 million students, 350,000 teachers, and 10,000 schools.