School choice is a slice of the education pie

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The 30 or so children assembled in Rochester Prep Elementary School’s gymnasium are not students; they’re scholars in the charter school’s "believe it and you’ll be it" vernacular. At times, they jumped to attention, marched, and even stepped to a cheer in honor of the higher education institution their homeroom is named after, Howard University.

The students were participating in a press event to raise awareness about National School Choice Week. Clad in dark blue shirts and khaki trousers, they are undeniably the school’s best advertising. Rochester Prep’s emphasis on high achievement coupled with discipline exemplifies the reasons parents are attracted to charter schools, which are perhaps the most tangible result of the school choice movement.

Former Rochester school board member Allen Williams and City Council President Lovely Warren presided over the event at Rochester Prep. Williams, who recently founded the New York Center for Educational Justice, said parents should be able to choose the school that is best for their child’s education. Boundaries and ZIP codes shouldn’t dictate enrollment, said.

He says he also wants to see the state’s cap on charter schools lifted, and calls for parity in funding between charter and traditional public schools. The latter would almost certainly sound the death knell for traditional public schools.

Williams, who lost his seat on the city school board to Mary Adams, is not optimistic about the future of city schools. While there are pockets of success, he says, “The district has been at it for the last 40 years, and what we’ve seen is decline.”

There are a lot of good teachers, he says, who do what they can.

“But there are a lot of people who benefit from the system the way it is,” Williams says.

And that may be the biggest difference between Rochester Prep and some city schools. The beneficiaries at Rochester Prep are clearly the students who are scoring higher on tests than most of their peers in the city school district.

And they’re doing it without the benefit of higher paid teachers or a modernized building.

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