Opinion: Daily Journal

School choice allows parents to choose sacrifice, inconvenience to help their children succeed

We got lucky.

By we I mean my family, which includes my wife and twin boys, who are now 16.

They have never attended a traditional public school. They haven’t attended a private school, either.

But that’s the great thing about freedom of choice. It gives North Carolina parents options, in this case the ability to choose where they send their children to learn.

The boys attended a charter-magnet school for kindergarten through part of fifth grade, which was interrupted when openings became available at a new charter middle school about 15 miles away. We drove them to school in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon, a process which, all told, took a couple of hours.

Was this inconvenient for my wife and me? Sure it was.

Did we have to make sacrifices because we believed such an educational environment was best for our children? You bet.

We didn’t choose to take advantage of North Carolina charter schools because of a prejudice or an intangible distaste for traditional public schools. Rather, we chose these types of schools simply because we believed they would best suit our children.

Many educators throughout North Carolina do great work, in and out of the classroom.

Yet parents know their children best. Or, at least, they darned well should. Parents know their children’s idiosyncrasies and peccadillos. Parents can identify burgeoning strengths and potential weaknesses. Parents, and their children, rush in to fill those gaps.

So, when it came time for the boys to enter high school, we considered our options.

One of the boys, we thought, would most likely be fine in a traditional public school, maybe even thrive there. The other, we believed, was an imperfect fit for the one-size-fits-all method of traditional public education.

We took advantage of our power to choose, appreciating our choice to live in a state that allows parents such remarkable flexibility.

We applied to charter schools throughout the Triad. Then, I got a job in Raleigh, so we started applying in the Triangle, too. We entered the lottery for Raleigh Charter High School, arguably the best high school in North Carolina and among the top several dozen in the country.

It was not unlike entering an actual lottery, in which money is the prize. Uh, good luck with that.

Raleigh Charter got 1,423 applications for admission for the 2020-21 school year, including 1,152 for ninth grade. An admissions lottery was held March 22, and 150 rising freshmen were accepted, the school’s website says.

“Due to the high number of applications,” the school’s website says, “non-sibling ninth-graders had a 7% chance of being accepted to RCHS in this year’s lottery.”  

After we applied a couple of years ago we got a letter telling us we were fifth on an obviously lengthy wait list. (Twins, by the way, don’t get a double shot at the lottery. Instead they both get in on the same number.)

“We’re in,” I told my wife. Still dubious, she scoffed.

“There’s no way anyone will turn down the chance to attend Raleigh Charter,” she said.

We got in. People are incredulous when we tell them where our kids attend school. Dumb luck, we say, even considering Raleigh Charter is in an older, smaller building. There is no cafeteria, no auditorium, and no athletic fields.

None of that matters, really.

No doubt, we appreciate the gravity of this auspicious selection and, I think, as the boys prepare to enter their junior years at RCHS, they’re starting to realize their good fortune, as well.

But critics, mostly Democrats, would rather charter schools just go away. That won’t happen, but they will move to inhibit growth nonetheless.

Critics of charter schools argue school-choice programs, like charter schools, siphon money and resources from traditional public schools. These critics are pursuing caps on growth, and even a moratorium on new charters, pending further study — misguided ideas aimed at eliminating competition and propping up failing public schools.

Any studying should be left to students, of course, and those parents willing to accept a daily inconvenience. Those parents who will make the necessary sacrifices to give their children the best chances of success.

Raleigh Charter is successful for myriad reasons, though communication is high on that list. Teachers, parents, and students listen to one another. They talk to one another, and they are honest with one another.

“Our faculty is focused on really building relationships with kids and taking those relationships and focusing on the curriculum and helping kids grow individually,” Raleigh Charter Principal Lisa Huddleston recently told Carolina Journal.

Much talk in the General Assembly over the next several months will focus around bonds and other funding methods to build new, multimillion-dollar schools. They’ll be rallies and intensive lobbying, all toward that goal.

Educators and schools will ask for — even demand — more money and better benefits. They’ll want smaller classes and more money for supplies.

It will be interesting to learn how much these same people talk about helping students, individually. How much they talk about building relationships, with parents and students, even if those relationships require certain levels of sacrifice and inconvenience, for either side.

I guess we’ll see.