January 27 begins National School Choice Week. School choice? What’s that, you say? In the simplest terms, school choice means that you, as a parent or guardian of a child, have a choice of where you send your child to be educated. And that the choice comes at no additional cost. We have limited choices here in Alabama.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for any certain type of school choice. I am not advocating for any particular set of choices. The purpose of this post is to share what choices Alabama’s families currently have for educating the children in the family.
We have public schools in Alabama. Funded with federal, state, and local money. In most all cases, students are geographically zoned to attend a certain school. The sole exception I can find where families truly have a choice of where to send their child is in the Florence City school system, where families of children in grades K-4 choose from the city’s three elementary schools upon entering the school system. The child is expected to then stay in that school through grade 4. [If your school system offers a choice like this, please let me know: asc(at)alabamaschoolconnection.org.]
Of course, families can choose to send their child to a private school, at considerable cost to the family, or to homeschool their child. In each case, whatever public monies that would have been used to pay for their child to attend public school stays in the public coffers. The family must fund the cost of that choice completely on their own.
Twelve of Alabama’s 134 school systems offer the choice of magnet schools. The ALSDE (Alabama State Department of Education; remember your acronyms!) defined magnet schools as: “A public elementary/secondary school designed to attract students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds for the purpose of reducing, preventing, or eliminating racial isolation; and/or to provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme (e.g.,science/math, performing arts, gifted/talented, or foreign language).”
Magnet schools typically have admission criteria, meaning that the child must go through an application process, and meet benchmarks, either on testing or other entrance criteria, in order to gain admission to the magnet school.
The systems with magnet programs are: Butler County, Mobile County, Montgomery County, Birmingham City, Decatur City, Demopolis City, Dothan City, Geneva City, Huntsville City, Phenix City, Selma City, and Tuscaloosa City. There are 39 magnet schools in Alabama out of more than 1,500 schools total. Here is a Google map depiction of the location of those magnet schools (you might have to adjust the zoom level to see the whole state):
View Magnet Schools in Alabama in a larger map
From what I can tell, each magnet program is different, has different criteria for admission, and a few have academic achievement levels that are below that of non-magnet programs in their districts. Here are a few application/program information packets that I rounded up:
- Dothan City Schools Magnet Program Information
- Montgomery Elementary School Magnet program application 2013-2014
- Booker T. Washington Magnet High School 2011-2012 Student Handbook
- Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School Application Packet 2013-2014
- Ramsay High School Application 2013-2014
There are magnet programs for elementary, middle, and high school, though not necessarily for all levels in each of the 12 Alabama school systems that offer magnet programs.
The other kind of choice that Alabama’s families have is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Here is a Google map depicting where Alabama’s students have the choice of participating in an IB program:
View International Baccalaureate Programs in Alabama in a larger map
Typically, the IB program is available to children who show success on achievement tests and have an aptitude to succeed at a higher level than their peers. Currently eight of Alabama’s 134 school systems offer an IB program either at the Primary, Middle, or Diploma level, though only one system, Decatur City, currently offers all three levels of programs in their schools. Birmingham City is seeking authorization for all three levels and would become only the second district in the state to gain authorization. Here is a list of all of Alabama’s IB schools.
And that’s it. Those are the public school choices that Alabama’s families have other than the simple geographic zoning of their students to schools in their district.
Career academies have become popular over the years, but those choices are typically not offered until students reach high school. Career and technical education is being revitalized, but again, those are choices in programming that don’t kick in until high school.
So, to recap, public school choice amounts to a few magnet schools in a few school systems in Alabama, along with very few IB programs in very few school systems in Alabama. Other than Florence City’s innovative pick-an-elementary-school-for-your-child program, students in Alabama are destined to attend the school that is attached to the ZIP-coded area in which the student lives.
Most likely National School Choice Week will pass without much fanfare in Alabama. With little push for school choice in Alabama, one can only assume that Alabama’s families are satisfied with the choices that we have.
I can find no large-scale survey asking Alabama’s families about school choice, and as such, would appreciate your quick response to this two-question survey asking whether you would like to have more choices, and if so, what kind of choices would you like to have. The survey will remain open until January 30.
Please join the conversation here or on our facebook page. Do you want more choices? Are you satisfied with the choices we have in Alabama?