by Briana LeClaire
This is a slightly edited excerpt from a speech I gave to a civic group.
When I started on this project, one things I wanted to find out was why there hasn’t yet been a statewide association of private schools in Idaho that has stuck. There have been associations that have begun, but after not too long, they have all faded.
I’ve discovered the vast array of Idaho private schools. They span a dizzying array of educational philosophies, programs, pedagogies, physical layouts of the schools themselves, schedules, classroom technologies, and on and on.
I’ve also discovered that similar private schools often compete with one another. For example, a family that is interested in the International Baccalaureate school probably would not consider sending their child to the classical Christian school. However, are the classical Christian school and the evangelical Christian school, physically located in Meridian less than five miles apart, competing for some of the same students? You bet they are.
So to recap: private schools are, generally, very different from one another, except for when they’re similar. In those cases, they’re competitors.
The end result of all this has been private schools have concluded, very reasonably I think, that their time and energy is best spent doing what they do best, which is educating kids.
Wait a minute. THAT’S what private schools have in common!
What private schools have in common is THEY WORK. And I propose to you that the reason they work is not DESPITE, but BECAUSE OF choice and competition.
In all of their diversity, spanning not just left to right or east to west, but more like all the points of the compass, the outcomes of private school educations have been the kinds of citizens we want to have.
They don’t all vote the same way. They don’t all worship the same place. They don’t ALL worship, at all.
But, on the whole, graduates of private schools are desirable citizens. They’re creative. They pay taxes. They contribute to the health and wealth of our society.
So if the kids who come out of private schools, who then go on to contribute to society, are not all products of the same program – if they are, in fact, notably diverse – then what’s the secret sauce?
The secret sauce is choice.
Nobody forces a child to go to any private school. Nobody assigns a child to a private school according to his ZIP code. Parents choose a private school because it fits their child and their values.
Choice facilitates the ever-elusive parental involvement. What gets parents involved is having skin in the game. They picked the school, so there’s more than a little self-interest – there’s even a little ego – involved in making sure things are working out. I guarantee everybody with a child going to a private school is paying at least some attention.
School choice also improves the behavior of the entity on the other side of the educational transaction. Let me ask you this: where do you expect to receive better customer service? At a restaurant that is one of many different restaurants you can choose? Or at the DMV? Which of those two is ANY private school going to be more like?
Okay. Some big, overarching, command-and-control program is not what makes private schools succeed. Choice is the secret sauce.
In a nutshell, the Idaho Federation of Independent Schools exists to give all Idaho families a taste of the secret sauce. We are allied with everyone fighting for more school choice. We want to facilitate choice so that students can get into the schools that suit them best, and we want the money to follow them there.