First-grade classroom
James V. Shuls

What type of school do you like? Do you prefer those that use Maria Montessori’s approach, which is based on the idea that children are naturally inquisitive and can be taught through guided choices? Are you more into the play-based approach of Waldorf schools? What are your thoughts on Reggio Emilia’s project-based approach? Do you want a religious school? Would you consider yourself more of a constructivist, or do you prefer more direct instruction methods? How do you feel about the classical model, which values the great works of history and places an emphasis on logic and rhetoric?

Have you even thought about these questions before?

No?

Why not? They pertain to the most important and precious beings in your life—your children.

Compare how you think about and make education decisions for your children to how you make almost any other decision. Chances are you did more research on the last vacuum you purchased than the last schooling decision you made (college decisions not included).

There is a reason that most Americans have given little thought to where their children will go to school: They don’t believe they need to. Our children are assigned to schools that are governed by districts, which institute state-mandated standards, and are subject to state accountability systems. By and large, most of our traditional public schools are doing the same things in the same ways. This is crazy when we consider that there is a veritable Baskin-Robbins of school types, philosophies, and flavors out there. In education, we have somehow managed to convince 90 percent of the population to choose vanilla.

Please understand, I’m not belittling our public schools. Vanilla is safe. Vanilla is the flavor that may appeal to the broadest possible group. It is, however, not our first choice. If given an option, most of us would chose something different—Rocky Road, Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookies & Cream, you name it. The point is that most people don’t have a choice, at least not one that can compete with “free” vanilla.

This is a travesty. We have created a system that allows parents to avoid thinking critically about what they value. If they do, and they determine they’d prefer for their child to attend a private school, we place a heavy penalty on them. Our traditional public education system requires students to attend public school as a condition for receiving their public education benefit. If you want something other than vanilla, you pay for it!

This is starting to change in states that have enacted vouchers, education savings accounts, or tax credit scholarships. With these programs, parents can finally choose the flavor of school that suits them and their children.

 It is time for lawmakers to offer more educational options to Missouri families.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.