What is National School Choice Week?
That’s a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times since I began my role as Communications and Media Advisor for the group back in September. When I speak with people in my own circles, this question and several similar ones swirl.
This post is a basic rundown of the initial questions you may have about National School Choice Week as an event and group. If I haven’t answered everything for you by the end, please leave a comment for me to answer for you and future readers.
Let’s get started…
What is National School Choice Week?
National School Choice Week happens the last week of January every year. 2014 marks its fourth year and there will be over 5,500 independent events held all over the country from January 26 – February 1 (though some are a little earlier or later). The point of National School Choice Week is to shine a positive spotlight on excellent traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, private/independent and faith-based schools, online learning and homeschooling.
NSCW is a grassroots effort led by moms, dads, teachers and supporters in local communities across the country. Events include everything from rallies at statehouses to documentary screenings, roundtable discussions, school fairs, award ceremonies, parent appreciation events, essay contests, and open houses. These events are all planned and funded by individuals, schools, organizations and coalitions.
Is National School Choice Week all about promoting charter schools?
Not exactly. NSCW does celebrate excellent education options and that includes public charter schools. It also includes traditional public “neighborhood” schools, private schools, independent schools, virtual schools, public magnet schools and homeschooling options. If you are not sure what these different school choice classifications mean, the Education Commission of the States has an excellent break down that you can check out. I think the misconception that this effort is all about charter schools and educational privatization stems from the fact that many people refer to public charter and magnet schools as “schools of choice.” NSCW does not advocate for one type of schooling over another though. The effort is about having many choices and empowering parents to have a say in what schooling model is right for their children.
NSCW is anti-public schools, right?
In short, no. National School Choice Week is not “anti” anything. There are actually a growing number of public school districts that participate in National School Choice Week to highlight the excellent efforts at their own schools. In November, parents of the Chicago Public Schools held the first ever neighborhood school fair as an early NSCW event.
The issue of school choice is not about pitting heroes and villains against each other anyway — it is much more complicated than that.
My kids go to the traditional public elementary school prescribed to us in our neighborhood and our family is completely thrilled with it. We also have the luxury of kids who learn well in a traditional classroom environment and a school that consistently has an “A” ranking, year after year. My son shows strength in engineering and technology, and my daughter has a lot of natural ability in the performing arts and I’ve been able to locate public magnet schools in our area that support both efforts at the middle- and high-school level — so that is in the back of my mind as they get older.
Will I pull them out of the traditional public school system at some point? I don’t know but I believe it should be my right to do so if I feel they will be better prepared for their careers in a more specific environment.
Other parents may want to move their kids within their public school district, beyond it, or to a private or virtual school because of other subject strengths, or even to give a fresh start when bad behavior has been established at a particular location. Whatever the reason (and parents should not feel as if they need to make excuses), the choices need to exist and parents need the tools and support to make the most informed decisions in their own family situations. Consider this: parents are allowed to choose from thousands of clothing, food, discipline and housing options for their kids but in the past, education has fallen into two categories: free and public, or expensive and private. Since the mid-1990s, that model has been evolving but there is still a long way to go before all parents can say that they really have a choice in where and how their children learn. National School Choice Week is enthusiastic about those efforts.
How much do schools pay to participate in National School Choice Week?
There is no cost to participate in NSCW. The group also provides schools with access to promotional materials, like posters and trademark NSCW yellow scarves, to schools at no cost (except for shipping in some cases). NSCW also offers a wealth of FREE support to schools in planning their events, inviting the community, writing press releases (that’s where I come in), and getting positive media coverage for the awesome initiatives at their schools.
So… how does NSCW make money (scratches head)?
Since NSCW is not a corporation, and there are no stock or stake holders, there is no goal to bring in revenue. The NSCW team is actually very small, because all but 14 of the events during NSCW are planned by folks around the country — and these independent event planners pay for their own events. The partner organizations (too many to list!) involved in NSCW generally support school reform in some way but come from both sides of the Democrat-Republican aisle. There is also a growing number of public school districts involved in the effort, generally in areas where school choice of some sort has been around for a while.
Is National School Choice Week the same thing as Common Core?
This is actually a really prevalent question and the answer is simply “no.” In fact, NSCW does not endorse any legislation or educational policies. National School Choice Week is a public awareness campaign — though some groups that participate in NSCW may have strong feelings about particular educational laws and policies.
Our school is not having a NSCW event but I want to participate anyway. Can I?
Absolutely! Schools and organizations host the vast majority of National School Choice Week events, but individuals can also participate by hosting get-togethers at home or in the community. This year NSCW created a Friends and Family Movie Night Kit for people who want to support school choice as a family unit or small group of individuals. There is a DVD copy of the documentary The Ticket: The Many Faces of School Choice included which is a great starting point if you are new to the school choice issue. Order a Friends and Family Kit — there is popcorn!
So what “choices” in education do I have, in my community?
My favorite question of all! Educational options for children vary from state to state and you can read more about your own using this state-by-state tool created by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. You can also head over to the National School Choice Week website and search for events being held near you by inputting your city or zip code. Not all events are public and listed on the NSCW site, but this is a good starting point for understanding what is available for your family. Even if you do not have a charter or magnet school, or a private school scholarship or voucher program, in your area, there are likely online schooling options.
I hope I’ve been able to answer some of your questions. Feel free to ask more in the comment section, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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