Thoughts on School Choice

Recently I had occasion to gain some direct knowledge of the issue of school choice – something of which I had theretofore been comfortably ignorant, DINK that I am. I and a few colleagues were invited out to DC to take part in the Amplify School Choice conference hosted by the Franklin Center. There were several instructive panels and engaging speakers who touched on the political, social, and marketing aspects of school choice.

Now, one thing I’ve always been rather lukewarm towards was schooling. While I had the freedom to attend public, private, and Catholic schools over the course of my academic career, but after about the sixth grade I lost whatever enthusiasm I had for spending nine hours a day indoors regurgitating things that were not of immediate concern to me.

The author, in a rare moment of somewhat enjoying his school years.
The author, in a rare moment of somewhat enjoying his school years.

Luckily for me, this conference involved field trips.

It was on our field trip that I was introduced to the kids at Archbishop Carroll High School, who immediately piqued my interest. Archbishop Carroll is a Catholic coed high school, and it was one of the first schools in Washington that was racially integrated from its founding in 1951 – well before Brown v. Board of Education. As I walked into the school, something immediately sprang out to me: the kids were making eye contact. This is highly unusual among adolescents; even intelligent specimens tend not to engage readily. The students at Carroll were earnest and proud to show my group their school.

A brief tour of the classrooms revealed teachers challenging students with problems that required critical thinking or hands-on, practical experimentation. Class sizes were small, around 15-20 students. Hands were raised, questions were asked, and you could see that the kids were invested in their own education. I kept coming back to how self-possessed, articulate, and enthusiastic they were.

It was a strange and wonderful thing to see, and it made me question how anyone could deny kids with this much potential the opportunity to get an education that works. Whereas in hindsight I see that I  was fortunate to experience a number of different school systems as a child, the students at Carroll do not necessarily have the same latitude. Many of them are only able to attend because of programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarship, which you may recall was defunded by President Obama.Thankfully this avenue to an education and all its attendant benefits was reinstated by Congress in 2011.

The kids at Archbishop Carroll don’t take their opportunity for granted, and I got the sense that we shouldn’t take them for granted either. Neither should anyone stand in their way.