Diana Brumley’s son, Dylan, was diagnosed with high functioning autism, depression, anxiety and pervasive personality disorder when he was 7 years-old, but she was determined not to let it define him. “We have had him in private schools, big public schools and small public schools,” said Brumley. Brumley knew her child was different but was confident he could succeed. “We found hope for Dylan by enrolling him in the multi-sensory learning environment where he is currently thriving amongst students who accept each other and teachers who truly understand each child’s individual needs,” said Brumley.
Understanding School Choice
School choice has become one of the latest buzz words in the education world. If you are a parent trying to decipher what exactly it refers to, you are not alone. “When you say school choice, people have different things in their head on what you are talking about,” said Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) in Oklahoma City. OCPA is an independent public policy research organization—a think tank—headquartered in Oklahoma City that believes that parents are best suited to make decisions regarding the care and education of their children. OCPA contends that parents should have the right and the ability to choose the safest and best school for their children, whether that’s a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school, a virtual school, a home school, or some other option.
“When I was a kid you just went to the school closest to your house,” said Dutcher. “Now people recognize that every child is different even in a particular family and what is right for one sibling may not be the best for the other. Today, things are so much different and there are charter, virtual, magnet and private school options, as well as vouchers and tax credits that help make them more affordable. In addition, there is homeschooling which is huge in Oklahoma. All of that falls under school choice. “ Dutcher encourages every parent to take the time to explore their options. “I do not think people realize the wide range of choices available in our state” he says. “Consider what you want to achieve. Some parents’ main goal is academic excellence while others are concerned about safety or want their child to have a focus on music and art.” In order to understand school choice, it is important for parents to first understand the difference between educational options available for their student.
College Preparatory Schools
Parents that choose college preparatory schools believe that earning a college degree will lead to higher earnings and better prepare students to excel in a career. These schools function under assumption that each student will go on to attend a four-year university or college and teach their curriculum accordingly. “Colleges nowadays are requiring higher and higher scores for students to be admitted and higher requirements for grade point averages,” said Diane Wilson of Mount St. Mary High School. These schools often offer a wide variety of clubs and athletic programs for students who are looking for a little extra.
“There are many reasons why families choose a virtual school, which can range from students who are bullied, military families who move often or students that have medical issues,” said Alissa Olden, local development manager with K12.com and the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy. Athletes or musicians may prefer it because it allows flexibility to travel or take part in other activities while still reaching academic goals. “It is all about having the ability to choose a school that fits the student rather than the student fitting into a school that does not serve all of their needs,” said Olden.
Private schools are educational institutions run independently of the government, and may be religious-based or specialized for a specific group of students. Generally, parents pay tuition to the school to help cover operational and educational expenses. Often, the smaller class sizes and more individual attention offered by private schools are appealing to parents with students with different learning styles. “We offer a quality education for children with learning differences in a small, safe and nurturing environment,” said Jennifer Vaught, head of school at Trinity School. “Our staff takes a holistic approach, where students focus on academics, fitness and health, social and behavioral needs.”
Homeschooling has grown in popularity in Oklahoma in recent years, with an estimated 18,000 students being educated at home each year. Organizations such as Oklahoma Christian Home Educators’ Consociation (OCHEC) work to equip both beginning and experienced home educators with the tools they need to best educate their children. “The benefits of home education are many and multifaceted," said Dana Wilson of OCHEC. "One advantage is a one-on-one or small group teaching environment. Less time required with books means more time available for learning outside the home, serving in the community and traveling as a family. Lastly, the ability of parents to direct the content of their child's education is one of the most commonly cited reasons parents give for homeschooling.
For many parents, the blended model offers the best of both private schooling and homeschooling.. “Half the time is spent at school and half the time is spent at home,” explains Craig Dunham, head of school at the Academy of Classical Christian Studies. “This is an option for families who may not be able to pay for a full private education but want to be able to have more involvement with their student, We believe that our parents are responsible for their student’s education and we are coming along to assist them,” said Dunham.
Making School Affordable
Oklahoma student with special needs currently in public school can be eligible to receive a voucher to attend private school. The Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program helps children with disabilities enroll in and attend private school. Parents simply select an approved private school and submit the scholarship application to the Oklahoma State Department of Education by mail or fax with required documentation by December 1. For more information, visit www.ok.gov/sde.
Be a Wise Consumer
“Parents need to be wise consumers in this area just like they are in every other area of their lives,” said Dutcher. “There is no one answer with so many choices out there, so parents should just shop around, do their homework and make a choice that is right for their child.”
For the Brumleys, Diana reports that Dylan continues to excel as a student at Trinity School in Oklahoma City. Trinity’s programs recognize individual learning styles and help students reach their potential through active learning, a multi-sensory curricula and a supportive community—a perfect fit for their family. “Every child is different and sometimes customizing their education can make all the difference in all aspects of their lives,” Diana concludes.
For families interested in learning more about school choice options in Oklahoma, MetroFamily’s Kids Fest & Educational Expo on Saturday, April 5 will showcase private, virtual and charter school options.