Sometimes, when I tell people that my career has focused on promoting school choice, I am met with some confusion. 

“But what about public schools?” I am asked. 


Indeed, what about them? 

For some people, the concept of school choice is pretty narrow. To them, school choice means focusing on the benefits of a private education at, somehow, the expense of the traditional public school system. 

The reality is far different. The modern-day effort to promote school choice across the country has nothing to do with taking one type of school and elevating it above the rest. It is about pairing students with schools that work best for them, regardless of the type of school or how it is funded. 

In fact, most of the choices that parents can, and will, make for their children, are actually in the public sector. 

And the biggest untold secret of the school choice movement – and one that I hope to talk about more during the upcoming National School Choice Week (January 25-31, 2015) is that public school choice has grown enormously – and savvy school districts are embracing school choice as a benefit to families in their area. 

Consider this: millions of children across America now attend traditional public schools that are not in their “zone” – meaning the geographic area where they live. Some states even allow parents to choose schools for their children outside of their school districts. Why is this? Because leaders in more than 20 states across the country recognized the need to provide parents with greater options. 

More than 4,000 magnet schools also dot the American landscape. These themed schools, which are fully public and created by school districts, are tailored to meet the needs and interests of students. For example, in Jacksonville, Florida – the host city for the official kickoff celebration of National School Choice Week – I will be visiting three magnet schools. One is focused on science, one on performing arts, and another is focused on medicine. 

Of course, there are also charter schools in 42 states and Washington, DC. In fact, there are 6,000 of them across the country – a 90 percent increase in new schools over just a decade. The biggest misconception about charter schools is that they are somehow private or partially private. That is not true. Every charter school in America is a fully public school, accountable to authorizers, regulators, and taxpayers. Charter schools have become wildly popular and demand is extraordinary, with the names of 1 million students on charter school waiting lists. 

The advent of advanced technology has also brought a new type of public school option to American parents: virtual academies. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have full time, public, online schools – allowing students, in settings that meet their individual needs, to learn from some of the best educators in the world. 

Are private schools still a part of school choice? Absolutely, and they are an incredibly important component. After all, there are many students who would benefit enormously from a private education. Homeschooling, which is sometimes not mentioned as a “school choice” for parents, is also an essential piece of the overall school choice puzzle. 

But again, school choice is not now, nor ever was, just about one type of school. It is about raising awareness of all types of education environments that parents can – or should be able to – choose for their children. 

The growth in school choice, which 25 or 30 years ago would have been considered unfeasible or unlikely at best, is changing the lives of millions of American children. 

Now that’s something to celebrate.

Campanella is president of National School Choice Week.