DOUG ROSS: Give parents guidance on new school choices

2011-06-24T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Give parents guidance on new school choicesBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

The Indiana Department of Education is working feverishly to write the rules for how parents will apply for school vouchers. When that's done, I hope it will work on providing parents some guidance on school choice.

Between open enrollment in some school districts, charter schools and vouchers for nonpublic schools in a few weeks, parents could use some guidance on how to shop for a school.

It's a good problem to have, one that didn't exist for many parents until relatively recently.

Open enrollment came about when the state assumed the lion's share of the cost of operating schools in Indiana. With the state picking up the tab, the reasoning goes, why not allow students to attend school outside their district, as long as there is room in that district?

Charter schools are a relatively new development, too. These are public schools that sign a contract, in essence, promising to deliver a quality education in exchange for more latitude in how the school operates. If the schools fail to deliver on their promise, the charter can be revoked.

Nonpublic schools -- typically religious schools -- have been around a long time, but affordability has been a barrier for many families. The voucher system changes that. For qualifying families, the state will pay the private school as much as 90 percent of the cost of educating that child at a traditional public school in the child's home district.

Parents have some difficult choices ahead.

If they have more than one child, they're going to have to decide how much running around town they want to do. Is having the children at the same school more important than deciding which school is best for each individual child? Logistics can dictate that answer.

And what's best for a child? Is a smaller school with a lower class size, and thus more individual attention, the right choice? Or does that child require a broad curriculum?

Is the availability of advanced placement courses and other ways to get a jump-start on college the right choice or is vocational education smarter?

Are there differences in educational philosophy among schools that must be considered? Which extracurricular activities does each school offer, and how should that factor into the decision?

Parents of school-age children have some tough choices ahead. Students in high school probably won't be likely to switch, but there's a lot of flexibility for children in middle school and elementary school.

The Indiana Department of Education pushed hard to make these choices available to parents. Now it needs to provide a guide to parents so they can choose wisely.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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