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School Choice: A Shape Sorter
posted by: Tamia | April 08, 2020, 09:34 PM   

This week's guest blog is by AAEF Advocacy Fellow Tiffany Svennes, Director of Post-Secondary Studies, Denver Justice High School, Denver, Colorado.

I will never forget the day I learned the true depth and meaning behind the School Choice movement. I attended traditional schools as a student and have always been involved in non-traditional schools as a professional. The fact that parents should be able to enroll their students in a school outside their neighborhood seemed silly and arbitrary until the day I learned better. Ironically, my one-year-old daughter in all her slobbery glory clued me into this education lesson.


In the beautiful sunshine of a June summer day, my daughter was playing with a toy that almost every parent knows and recognizes. It is probably in the toy box of every toddler’s house. This toy is simple in design; a bucket with five different shape holes at the top and corresponding shapes to sort into the bucket. While the design is obvious to an adult, my dearest daughter did not understand that each shape had its own specific spot. She tried relentlessly to put the square shape in the circle hole; yet, to her infinite frustration, it did not fit. I watched her attempt this puzzle five times before she finally got one shape correctly in its slot.


Then it all hit me.


School choice is not about a war between traditional and non-traditional schools. It is not a competition to outlast that flashy charter school or rid the educational world of fine arts instruction due to budget reallocations. School choice has nothing to do with the “better” communities or the power of politics. Those important topics are a conversation for another day. School choice is solely about our students and supporting them in finding the right fit for their needs.


Our students come in all shapes and sizes both academically and emotionally. The needs of our students are complex and numerous while the options to fulfill those needs are often limited and inadequate. The basic goal of universal schooling is to educate and empower as many students as possible within society’s constructs, whether that be by means of aligned curriculum or standardized tests. For the most part, the universal design of education does its job at instructing mass numbers of students. However, at the same time, thousands of students act as the square shape that my daughter had relentlessly mashed into the wrong hole until she finally found the right fit.


School choice allows for the right fit for all students.


There should be schooling options for students who do not fit the traditional school style due to situations learned from previous experiences or a student’s specific learning style. There should be educational spaces for students gifted in mathematics, art, science, and technology regardless of whether they attend a traditional or non-traditional school. There should be power given to parents to enroll their child in whichever school seems to fit the needs of their family. There should be a safe and restorative place for students who need extra emotional support and coaching after years of trauma or legal issues. The pro-school choice position receives criticism about the probability of creating a divided society of winners and losers, or even more divisive, “racial re-segregation.” The opposing view is that this separation would occur because of the creation of high-performing affluent schools that economically disadvantaged students could not attend due to location or transportation conflicts. With these concerns in mind, it is of utmost importance that we tightly hitch school choice with equity and accessibility for all students regardless of race or socioeconomic background. It is time that we turn the tide on stagnant education and focus on meeting the needs of our students by any means necessary.


Tiffany holds a Bachelors of Arts in Global Studies degree from Colorado Christian University and a Master of Arts in Education degree with a specialization in Teacher Leadership from Western Colorado University. As a history teacher for the last three years, she is an advocate for innovative curriculum and instruction as well as a supporter of charter schools and alternative education. In addition to planning all things “Class of”, she is the GED Site Coordinator  and desires to continue opening doors for underserved and underrepresented populations. Tiffany is a grateful member of the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the Colorado Council International Reading Association (CCIRA) and an AAE Foundation Advocacy Fellow.

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