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What If We Could Choose Our Schools Like We Do Our Restaurants?

What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

The other day I was telling my daughter why Denny's always reminds me of my first teaching interview. We had driven six hours for this interview, and I was spending my last dollar. As a young single mom without a traditional teaching certificate, my options were limited. I was hoping that this tiny school on an Indian reservation also had limited options. The night before the interview my two children and I shared a stack of pancakes at the hotel Denny's. If I got this job, I could afford to take my children here once in a while, and I would know I "had made it."

My daughter was saddened by this story and could not believe there was a time in our lives when this was the best I could hope for. 

Years later, I still think about this every time I see a Denny's. Why is that? What is it about restaurants that evoke such emotions in people? When young girls dream of their perfect date, why do they describe the restaurant? Why do vacationers always share the food they ate? Why is Instagram flooded with images of savory and artistic dishes?

I think the answer lies, at least in part, with the element of choice. Not only do we have an array of choices (Mexican, Thai, Chinese, American, Cajun), and all the blends (Americanized Italian, Asian Fusion, Mexican with French flavors), but we can customize once we're there. No pico, hold the mayo, sub a whole wheat bun, can I pay the extra $2 for onion peels instead of fries?

What if we offered our families this level of choice in education? Yes, I know there are Christian schools, and private schools, charter schools, online schools, and homeschools? But what if the public schools offered choices? What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

Could we offer a variety of schools, and then let the parents choose? I don't mean offering ONE magnet school, or ONE gifted school in a district. I mean, what if each school was as different from each other as a Vietnamese restaurant is from a diner? What if we allowed students to customize their learning, like they do their dinner order?

What would parents do with this level of choice? I wonder if they'd be happier, or if they are so accustomed to educators making all the rules, that they would feel overwhelmed. I am one of those people that hates to decide the restaurant. When forced to, I look at the Yelp reviews, I ask around, I read the menu online. When I'm there, I scrutinize the dishes, I ask the server for advice, and I am never ready to order, even though I always order the chicken. Sometimes I hit and sometimes I miss, but I am always informed.

Texas is beginning down this path, though I doubt it will ever be close to this picture I've created. For the incoming Freshman, they've created endorsement pathways, similar to a college major. Students can choose from Science and Math, Arts and Humanities, Public Service, Business and Industry, and Multidisciplinary, or a combination of the above. They will still have their core classes, their foundation, but these pathways will help guide their choices in classes.

I think this is a great idea and certainly a giant leap forward. It seems many of the parents are excited about it, too, though they are nervous. We have never given them this level of choice before, and it's uncomfortable for them.

Parents, what do you think? Do you prefer choice or would you rather educators make the decisions?


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