Opinion: I opposed school choice until I had a child who needed it

Her own experiences finding the right education fit for her child turned an Atlanta attorney into a school choice proponent. (AJC photo)

Attorney Nina Hickson is the former ethics officer for the city of Atlanta. Hickson had a challenging experience finding a school that could meet the needs of her daughter who is dyslexic. In this piece, Hickson explains her conversion from opponent of choice to supporter.

By Nina Hickson

While it is generally accepted that education is key to upward mobility and the American dream, my experience as a parent is that when it comes to providing a good education, “One size does not fit all.”  While education may be an equalizer, if  students don’t receive education in a manner that meets their needs, education not only fails to equalize, it can also do a lot of harm.

It is for this reason that school choice is critical.

Prior to becoming a parent, I opposed school choice. I viewed it as a strategy for taking resources away from the public education system to the disadvantage of public school students. However, my short-sightedness became apparent after my dear daughter was retained in kindergarten, and I was told that she was just “immature.”  I sensed there was a problem, but I followed the recommendation of my daughter’s teacher to have my daughter repeat kindergarten with the hope my daughter would mature and be able to learn how to read.

Nina Hickson

By the time my daughter completed the first grade, she had pulled out patches of her hair, was convinced she could not read and had seen her English grade drop from an A to an F. Yet, she had straight As in her other classes.

I was determined to find out what was going on. I was blessed to have the resources to have my daughter evaluated and was relieved to discover she had a learning difference: dyslexia. While I knew what we were dealing with, my challenge became how best to address it.

Our educational journey has involved public schools, private schools, parochial schools, charter schools and now virtual school. Had I not been able to consider options for my daughter, I fear that she would have fallen through the cracks because she would have become further discouraged and convinced she could not learn, when, in fact, what she needed was an education informed by the strategies and methods geared toward her learning difference.

Because my daughter had the choice of attending an institution where she received instruction from educators trained to teach learners with differences, she gained confidence in her abilities, was able to focus on her strengths and find success in school.

Nevertheless, we reached another point in her journey when her well-being required another “choice.”  Because my daughter learned to advocate for what she needed in education,  it became apparent that she was not receiving it in a traditional “brick and mortar” setting. So, I began to seek out alternatives. Again, the opportunity to make a choice was critical to my daughter’s educational success.

We opted for virtual school after much trepidation and found a place that worked for my daughter. Virtual school is not for everyone, but it works for her.  It has afforded her the opportunity to work independently and at her own pace; she is not distracted by classmates who are not interested in learning and she has had to develop organizational skills which are serving her well.

Having this choice has resulted in my daughter again finding success in school and nurturing her talents. Her experience before choosing online schooling included frequent absences, illnesses and general frustration that again resulted in her being discouraged and doubting her abilities.

It is one thing to operate based on theories and principles, it is quite another to have to meet the needs of a living and breathing human being. Dealing with one’s child is where the rubber meets the road and one has to make choices in the best interest of that child.

The success of our society is going to depend in large part on the education of our children. Providing a quality education requires the concerted efforts of many.  Parents cannot do it alone. Teachers can’t do it by themselves, either.

In my journey, I’ve become involved with the school choice advocacy organization Better Outcomes for Our Kids or BOOK, which believes parents should have options for their children’s education. Begun last year, the Atlanta-based organization is in the midst of a campaign to improve schools in the African-American community by informing parents about school choice. Because of my experience choosing a school for my daughter, I understand the value of school choice and support BOOK’s efforts.

Regardless of what school system or methodology is used, community support, parental involvement and advocacy are required.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
dg417s
dg417s

Let's just be honest here. You have options. You have choice. As a taxpayer without children, however, I do have a say in how my tax dollars are used. I believe in strong public schools which are the cornerstone of a strong economy and society. I was listening to the Governor-Elect from New Jersey this morning stating how under Chris Christie, New Jersey's public schools have been underfunded by the tune of $9 billion. It sounds like Governor Christie took lessons from Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal. Starve the schools and call them failures.

sethandrews22
sethandrews22

@dg417s Let's just be honest here. Many don't have options. Many can't afford to move to a different school district, can't afford private tutoring, can't afford private school, can't choose to educate their kids as they would like. And the answer to that dilemma will never be to pour more money in the public schools. Give parents real options and watch all options improve their offering. Or watch them die. Ah, who am I kidding? Screw 'em all. If the parents don't know any better, then let the kids languish where they are. It's a dog-eat-dog world, you know.

dg417s
dg417s

@sethandrews22 @dg417s I'm not talking about pouring money into schools. I am talking about funding them like they should be. I was in a committee room at the Capitol when Senator Fran Millar basically told us that underfunding was the new norm. We haven't properly funded our schools since early in Sonny Perdue's term. That being said, there is no profit to be made in many places in the state and the "choice schools" just won't go there.

sethandrews22
sethandrews22

@dg417s @sethandrews22 Underfunded by whose measure? Seems anything short of "whatever I say i need" qualifies as underfunded in today's climate. Want a dose of reality on the state of our schools? Look at U.S. funding per student in comparison to other nations and then take a look at PISA rankings. Have a stiff drink handy. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Privitation of public schools good!!!!!!!

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Here is why school choice can be bad for the taxpayer - no accountability.

This state charter high school (Graduation Achievement Center Charter High School) has scored an F on the governor's report card for the last 5 years but remains open and guess what? You can find real public schools salaries on the state audit but state charter schools finances are hidden away. Why do you think they hide the money for their continuously failing state charter schools?

atlanta spirit
atlanta spirit

Heresy. In government we trust from cradle to grave.

BRV
BRV

On of my kids attended the virtual school that Forsyth County operates. Her experience was ok, not great, not terrible either. There is no inherent reason why virtual schools have to operated by private, largely for-profit contractors. Given the dismal performance of virtual charter schools locally and nationally there is every reason to think that virtual schools should specifically not be operated private contractors. The current implementation of virtual charters is effectively educational malpractice as the schools are literally in the business of constantly recruiting students who are ill-suited to be enrolled in online schools given the enormous enrollment churn in those schools.

This has to be the least compelling argument in favor of school privatization I’ve seen in a while. There are many charter advocates (not DeVos of course) who worry that the stink from online charters is harming the charter industry as a whole. Yes, community support and parental involvement are important but privatizing the public school system is not a prerequisite of achieving either of those laudable goals.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV

"This has to be the least compelling argument in favor of school privatization I’ve seen in a while. "


That's not what this is.This is an argument for parental choice,which you admit that you have availed yourself of when it was in your child's best interests.


BRV
BRV

BOOK Is funded by Walton and others to promote school privatization which is what the author is doing by promoting online charters in her piece. Naturally you didn’t address the substance of what I wrote. Seriously, if you favor privatization you’d do well to call as little attention to online charters as possible.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


So...What boogeyman was behind the school that you hypocritically chose when it was convenient? 


Do as I say...sayeth the hypocrite.


Shira Newman
Shira Newman

We should have all different kinds of schools with all different ways of doing things. Let parents decide. Yes I have spoken with teachers who indicate that parents aren't qualified to do this. So horrible.

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

Why should only those who can afford it have school choice?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Ms. Hickson, how long was your daughter in each of the settings you list?  And how long has she been in virtual school?

J260
J260

Public schools exist to serve students, their parents, and taxpayers, in that order.  Public schools are NOT supposed to be a jobs program for angry liberals.


If the educrats are concerned about parents taking their children to other schools, and rightly taking tax dollars with them, maybe they need to look in the mirror and figure out why so many parents and taxpayers view them so unfavorably.  And then start addressing the problem.


HINT - it's not anything that the constant calls for "more money and more funding" are going to solve.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Ms. Hickson,

What you are doing is wrong. Morally, the tax dollars that you pay for education BELONG to the educators and administrators who work in the schools that your daughter is zoned to attend. Trying to steal those dollars from them simply because you are concerned about and want the best for your daughter is not right.


If you have the means to pay additional money on your own for special instruction for your daughter, that's ok. But your tax money needs to stay where you live. 


Why are you so selfish? Don't you care about the other kids in your community? Are you some kind of elitist? What makes you think you can get out of paying your fair share?

USMC2841
USMC2841

@AlreadySheared If I missed the sarcasm excuse me.


What kind of mind rationalizes the money she earns BELONGS to someone else, when they are failing to educate her daughter?  It's a tragedy that Ms. Hickson is called a thief for trying to find better education opportunities for her daughter.


Good job, Ms. Hickson.  You found education that is open to the PUBLIC and used it to benefit the student, who happens to be your daughter.  Just because the PUBLIC education wasn't part of an under performing jobs program doesn't make it any less of a viable option.

RamblinRed
RamblinRed

@AlreadySheared


Sorry you are incorrect in your statements.


Under FAPE every child is guaranteed the right to an education that meets their needs. If the local public school system is unable to meet that need then the child has a right to find a situation that does meet that need. The money belongs to the child, not the school. 


We need to understand that one size will not fit all. That doesn't mean public schools don't do a good job for many students, they do, but their are many students that public school is not a good option. 

Starik
Starik

@AlreadySheared  "Morally, the tax dollars that you pay for education BELONG to the educators and administrators."  Amazing. Honesty. It all about teachers and administrators. 

Astropig
Astropig

I'm very happy that Ms.Hickson found the best path for her child and I rejoice that things have worked out well for her.


I think that her story is actually very typical.When people stop thinking of their kids as some pre-defined "group" and realize that every child,even within their own family,has different needs and optimum learning pathways,it actually makes a lot more sense to  the parent to choose the best option for them.Sometimes,that involves zip code schools,sometimes not.The problem that I have observed is when the eduacracy goes crazy-tribal and calls parents horrible things for doing what parents should be doing-looking out for their child's best interests.The educrats don't have to live with the consequences of what they do or don't do-they can wash their hands of our kids after a set number of years and we have to live with the outcome for life.


Ms. Hickson here is a pretty good example of why choice options are snowballing across the country-when she stopped listening to the group identity dogma of the status quo and realized that her child is not some pawn to advance an abstract political agenda, she made a rational,free choice to do the right thing.Good for her.

Nichelle Young
Nichelle Young

That's human nature. It happens in all walks of life. If it isn't the norm, people reject it until all of a sudden... They need it. Then they get mad at others for continuing to reject it. Closed minded people are hypocrites

kaelyn
kaelyn

I don’t know anyone who is against parents being able to choose the educational path that best fits their children. I think the concept of choice has been mistakenly defined as always involving vouchers, which many people see as taking resources away from traditional public schools (that honestly do a hit or miss job of educating students).

Ms. Hickson is fortunate to have found learning options that worked for her child. It makes zero sense for a child to remain in a school that doesn’t meet his or her needs. However, I have no faith that the structure or funding of public schools will ever change. We’re doing school the way it’s always been done, and we always will. Parents have to realize this and do what’s best for their children. Expecting anything else is pure insanity.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

Most aren’t opposed to school choice. Most are opposed to the oppressive rules that allow school choice to prosper while strangling our public schools.

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

If the public schools are failing why is it so important to keep them?

Richard Cionci
Richard Cionci

My school isn't failing my Department of Education is failing.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

Shira Newman they aren’t failures they are over encumbered with Requirements that “school choice” doesn’t have to meet. We NEED public schools to educate all the kids the privates and charters kick out for low achievement or poor behavior. We need public schools to Educate all the kids whose parents won’t seek out “choice”. We need public schools because they are the bedrock of great communities.

Tiersa Holmes McClardy
Tiersa Holmes McClardy

Say that one MORE time!! It's called equity and equal playing field for ALL schools .. public funded Charters included ... Ex: limit enrollment (smaller class size) Restrict students based on discipline records and/ or restrict the number of students that can enroll in one given year with IEPs etc... Level the playing field then talk about district wide school choice.

Tiersa Holmes McClardy
Tiersa Holmes McClardy

Richard Cionci say that again one more time sir. Some people are clueless. The rules/ criteria are designed to set many students and schools up for failure ...

Monica Henson
Monica Henson

Katrina Bishop, ALL public school systems (not just charter schools) are able to request waivers of portions of Title 20, the state statute governing K-12 public education in Georgia. For decades, most districts rarely, if ever asked for waivers, except for occasional class-size waivers or school calendar waivers when bad weather extended the winter snow days taken, for example. A waiver under Title 20 is the mechanism that gives a public school or school system, whether district or charter, more flexibility.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

Monica Henson oh if it were only that easy. There are far too many politics in public education. Charters, especially here in GA often fail to meet the requirements set forth in CCRPI yet they stay open. Have you actually looked at what CCRPI includes? It’s ridiculous.

Starik
Starik

People do want the best for their kids, and will act accordingly.