EDITORIAL: Good choice

Private, charter schools offer valuable options in education

This is National School Choice Week, designed to celebrate and promote the growing options available to families that want to be able to select the best education platform for their children.

Those options have been an undeniable success, as evidenced by the continued growth in alternative campuses , driven by public acceptance and demand.

Nowhere is that more evident that in the Rio Grande Valley, home of IDEA Academy, one of the most successful charter school operations in the country. IDEA, which originated as an after-school program in Donna, has expanded throughout Texas and now offers high-quality education to some 50,000 students from the Valley to Forth Worth and from El Paso to New Orleans. New schools fill up as soon as they open, and their growth seems limited only by their ability to build new campuses.

Other charter schools boast similar success, as have private schools, both religious and secular. Home schooling has grown so popular that online resources, family networks and even sports and academic programs similar to the University Interscholastic League now help students and their families benefit from programs that formerly they had to forgo in the name of selecting alternative forms of education.

Best of all, as analysts predicted more than a decade ago, the competition appears to have prompted public school systems to improve also. For example, in the Valley, where not long ago public schools were known for poor performance and high dropout rates, many districts now exceed state and national averages in cumulative scores on standardized tests and other evaluations. Many of them have developed dual-enrollment programs with universities and colleges that enable students to take college-level classes, and earn college credit, while still in high school.

As a further sigh of private school acceptance, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has brought dual-enrollment to Brownsville’s St. Joseph Academy. Under the memorandum of understanding, St. Joe students will be able to earn up to 24 college credits — almost a full academic year’s worth — that should be transferable not only to UTRGV, but to many colleges and universities across the country.

St. Joseph already has a similar MOU with Texas Southmost College.

At a time when escalating university costs have many families questioning the relative value of a college degree and presidential candidates debating whether or not to levy taxes in order to write off student debt, such programs offer perhaps the best option: earning college credit at no cost in high school, which also enables them to garner their degrees and enter the work force at a younger age.

To be sure, some charter and private schools have failed, but in general they have shown that they can provide an education that is equal to and many times better than public school options for many students. We applaud UTRGV and other higher institutions that recognize the fact, and offer students in alternative schools the same programs that are offered in public schools. Doing so is good for the students, and also the communities that benefit from the students’ achievement.