The tradition of discounted bed linens in January goes back to the 19th century. Deals on many items are offered to shoppers after the holiday season.

Similarly, shopping for new schools has also become a winter tradition around the country. Parents are avidly exploring educational choice options for their children. Charter and private schools are currently making their sales pitches to attract students to their campuses. “Buy now” or a seat in our classrooms may not be available in the fall.

Competition between regular public schools and charters has never been about providing better curriculum and instruction, although it is often marketed that way. It is simply about retaining and attracting students. There is nothing magic about the word “charter.”

Charter schools need to attract students with parents that have the means to transport them to school each day. That is one of the reasons students from lower-income families are less likely to shift to charters.

Note the millions of dollars of unused state funds reserved for charter school transportation in Nevada. It is less cost effective for charters to provide transportation. Fiscal responsibility and attracting parents that are able to contribute monetary support is essential to keeping their doors open.

While a few charters have made noble efforts to attract and serve students of poverty, they face two challenges. At-risk students are more costly to educate and often bring lower standardized test scores. These schools are then criticized for having lower test score averages, despite comparable or better instructional practices than comparison schools.

Private schools primarily enroll students that can afford the cost of tuition. Some students are afforded tuition reductions or waivers due to exceptional individual talent (particularly athletic). Overall, they predominantly serve those of wealth. 

Students from the middle class are more likely to exercise choice options. Migration of students from public schools increases segregation of students by family income.

Students transfer for two main reasons: school environment and academic challenge. Failures in these areas, not standardized test scores, threatens public education.

Every public school should provide a physically, mentally and emotionally safe environment for students and adults in the building. Respectful and cordial student behavior is essential to a school’s success. Positive interactions must be shaped each day with the realistic expectation that almost all students can thrive in a cooperative learning environment.

Public schools must accept the challenge of educating all students, recognizing individual differences in academic ability. Expecting equal or common academic outcomes is not realistic. It is not realistic in private or charter schools either.

Students learn at different rates and to different levels, with most academic potential developed before kindergarten. Initial gaps of academic readiness and ability expand over time. Some students require continual remediation to even stay close to grade level progress. 

The progress of other students should not be slowed with the hope that everyone will catch-up or achieve at a common level. Students with above average abilities should receive appropriate pace and level of instruction. An easy fix for advanced students is to allow them to walk down the hallway for higher grade level mathematics instruction.

The most challenging role in public education is that of an effective building principal. This position requires an exceptional level of commitment to a daunting list of responsibilities. A primary responsibility is the creation and maintenance of a safe, cordial, productive learning environment.

An additional responsibility for public school principals has developed over the past couple of decades. Due to the expansion of charter schools, principals must competitively “market” their schools to retain and attract students. It is frustrating to lose students to another educational institution.

It should be easy to tout better personnel, resources, programs, extra-curricular activities and facilities. But diligent effort is needed to communicate and meet with parents and students. Targeting district and area feeder schools, holding open houses and supervised walk-throughs during school days are a few suggestions.

The winter sale for student enrollments is on now. It is imperative to counter false narratives and phony comparisons. Time to sell the virtues and advantages of public school education at the ultimate bargain price. “Quality public education, always free!”

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