Celebrating school choice locally, statewide

By Chancey Anderson

Guest Columnist

Being in education for nearly 15 years, I’ve come to appreciate the relationship between student success and giving families high-quality options when it comes to education. Along with providing exceptional options, we need to support our families in being critical consumers of education so they are able to select the best school for their child. This is one of the reasons it is incredibly important to have National School Choice Week, an annual celebration during the last week of January that spotlights the need for education options for all children.

Having the first-ever charter school law in the nation, and with a steady growth of both charter schools and students since that time, Minnesotans can look back on a legacy of promoting education options; however, we must recognize that every option is not equal. Thus we must help our families to be educated consumers. Not only are district and private schools varied in their results, but charter schools are varied as well.

In our lowest-performing charter schools in the Twin Cities only 12% of students are reported proficient in reading with 13% reporting proficient in math; whereas, in some of the highest performing charter schools, up to 78% of students are reported proficient in reading with 80% proficient in math. They range from dismal to exceptional results. Providing outstanding education options is only the first step. It is also our responsibility to help our families become critical consumers of education.

At Prodeo Academy and at a number of other schools throughout Minnesota, students are not only outperforming peers in their demographic, but they are outperforming national norms. Schools like Prodeo Academy, Hiawatha Academies, KIPP, Mastery Schools, Global Academy, Minneapolis College Prep, and other schools have worked diligently to bring best practices from the highest performing schools in the country to our classrooms in order to give families in Minnesota high-quality options.

We push to find the best teachers and administrators, we push to support those teachers in data-driven instruction so that students can truly learn at their level, and we push to support families not only by providing transportation, but also by working together with them to help their children reach their true potential.

Both the Minnesota Department of Education (go to rc.education.state.mn.us and select “Test Results”), and Charter School Partners (minneapolisschoolfinder.org) are providing families access to student results, which is critical information that families need when making a school-choice decision. Combined with exceptional options and clear information about results, National School Choice Week will allow families to be able to find a learning environment that best fits their child’s needs. It’s parental empowerment through school choice and through high-quality options that make possible our mission to close the achievement gap.

We have made significant progress in Minnesota, but there is more work to do. Over 20 years ago, it took a broad, bipartisan coalition to enact meaningful change in the form of Minnesota’s charter law. It will take similar efforts by current lawmakers to create even greater access to high-quality teachers and high-quality schools.

Support for parental choice transcends party lines and interest groups. When choosing the best learning fit for their child, parents need high-quality education options available, whether they be public or private, charter or traditional, online or brick and mortar. Schools and families need to work together to create informed consumers.

Schools like Prodeo Academy and others publish test results on our websites to make it easier for families to find information.  However, parents and families should look beyond merely the presented information. They should come to School Choice Fairs with a list of questions. How many students are in reading groups? At what level are the top quarter of students reading? What supports are in place for struggling students? Can I see several examples of student writing? How often do you assess reading and math progress? What do teachers do with those assessments? How do your student scores compare to national scores? Can you show me your test scores on the MDE website? The National School Choice Fair provides a place for families to access this information from countless schools so that they can make an educated selection that best fits their child.

So, find one of the 140 NSCW events and counting in Minnesota, listen to the inspiring stories of these families like the ones at Prodeo, and join us in celebrating the millions of students who now have a brighter future because their parents were empowered to do something about it, and become critical consumers of education for their children.

Chancey Anderson is co-founder and principal of Prodeo Academy, a free public charter school in Columbia Heights. Go to prodeoacademy.org for more information.