While School Choice Moves Forward, Don't Expect Smooth Sailing in 2013

Well, a new year has come, and you favorite edublogging prodigy is back from a well-deserved break playing with Legos and wishing for more snow. Before things start to heat up again, it’s time for a little more perspective. Jay Greene guest blogger Matt Ladner sent Happy New Year’s greetings by directing our attention to Education Week writer Sean Cavanagh’s look back at 2012 school choice developments and a look ahead to what 2013 might bring.

While 2011 certainly qualified for its Year of School Choice designation, the year that just passed was more of a mixed bag. Should even an idealistic 5-year-old be surprised that the tremendous momentum couldn’t be completely sustained, and that progress also entails challenges? Still, most of the trends Cavanagh cites are positive, including:

  • What looks like the first “Parent Trigger” breakthrough
  • The breakdown of more charter school caps, and the spread of successful charter operators
  • Though not as many as 2011, more approved and expanded private school choice programs
  • Charter school election day victories in Georgia and Washington State

If you believe in the “no news is good news” theory, what may be even better is that the top 10 “edu-story” predictions by the American Enterprise Institute’s education expert and reform realist Rick Hess includes only one school choice prognostication:

5] “The parent trigger garners attention as new states adopt legislation and takeover processes are initiated in a handful of additional schools (though most are immediately bogged down in litigation). The heightened scrutiny fuels difficult questions about how well the concept will actually work in practice, especially amidst continued mixed results for turnaround efforts more generally.”

As for me, ever focused on local Colorado action, the school choice-related development that will catch my eye the most in 2013 is the unprecedented school board showdown in Douglas County. Union opponents there already are actively attacking the incumbents. The stakes of the election — while we wait for the Court of Appeals to weigh in on Choice Scholarships — could be big not just for union power but also for future growth of school choice opportunities in Colorado.

Guess what I’m saying is it’s time to lace up the work boots, roll up the sleeves, and get ready for the challenges 2013 is sure to bring. Sailing likely won’t be smooth, but the results are worth it.