School Choice: Empowering Parents in their Child's Education
On February 4, the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings released its fourth annual Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI), which chronicles the progress across American school districts of ‘school choice’ – a system of primary and secondary school placement giving parents the freedom to choose their child’s school. The older, traditional model assigns students to local schools based on their residential address (often dividing children among schools along socioeconomic lines). Within that model, any parent wanting to exercise choice over their child’s placement must either change their home location or pay the high fees of private school tuition. Across the U.S., school districts are now transitioning to a new system that allows all parents to choose the appropriate school for their child. The reason? – to put greater power and ownership over a child’s education back into parents’ hands, to even the school-access playing field for low income families, and to encourage healthy competition between schools to better serve children’s needs.
When we look at school placement in Palestine, we are still functioning on the traditional model that makes residential location the primary determinant of a child’s school placement (unless the child is among the small minority that can afford private school tuition and transportation). The issue is particularly acute for Nablus, where K-9 public school options for refugee camp families are entirely separate from those for Nablus city residents; only in 10th grade are children from the camps integrated with children from other Nablus city neighborhoods. The issue of choice is further compounded by the fact that little difference exists between Nablus schools in curriculum, approach, or performance; even if parents could choose, the choice is empty if there are no real alternatives.
In TYO's Core Child program, we aim to offer a positive school choice for parents in a system severely lacking in options. Children from refugee camps and neighborhoods across Nablus are invited to enroll, and we provide transportation on a TYO bus to and from the child’s resident neighborhood.
With the release of the 2014 ECCI and the start of our Core Spring 2015 session, we asked a few parents about early childhood options in Nablus, and the alternatives to TYO. One father noted,
I haven’t seen other programs like TYO. We visited many preschools, and in every program the focus is solely academic, mostly reading and writing Arabic. We even visited the best preschool in Nablus, which I knew we could not afford, and as soon as I entered I knew it was a bad fit for Raghad. TYO’s space is much more comfortable. There are rooms and materials designed for different types of activities, for example the Sports, Imagination, and Concentration rooms. I want Raghad to experience those different things. Raghad has always had a special curiosity in building things. She loves blocks and patterns, and she needs a space like TYO in order to grow those interests.
As a father, I know that there will be enough time in Raghad’s future to learn specific subjects. We need to build her interest in learning first, and I think TYO is the only place that can meet that need.
Raghad’s father is a great example of a parent who understands his child’s needs, is invested in her future, and was fortunate enough to be able to make a school choice. His commitment to choosing the best school experience for Raghad is at the core of TYO’s multigenerational approach, which seeks not only to educate and empower children and youth, but also to empower their parents to make responsible choices for their children’s future.
At the release of Brookings' 2014 ECCI, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who heads the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, spoke about America's progress on school choice. In his speech, he emphasized the need “to move those decisions back towards the classroom, back towards the child, the family, the community of people who are nearest to the children and give the parent more authority to choose among options." At TYO, we couldn’t agree more.
- Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager