School Choice Is Progressive

Nov 8, 2019 12:00:00 AM

by Zachary Wright 

“Progressive” is a slippery word.

The very term denotes improvement, progress, and thus is by nature a desirable term with which to self-apply.

But "progress" is in the eye of the beholder.

What might be progressive to one may be regressive to another.

And indeed, what was at one time thought progressive, may in today’s world be embarrassingly regressive ("don’t ask, don’t tell" comes to mind.)

What Does It Mean To Be a Progressive Today?

One place to look is the platform of the Progressive Democrats of America

Their list of issues includes:

  • Healthcare Human Rights 
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • End Corporate Rule
  • Stop Global Warming
  • Voter Access
  • Economic & Social Justice
  • Ending Wars

There is a general theme here. To be "progressive," it would seem, is to fight for equitable access. Access to healthcare. Access to equal pay. Access to voting rights. Access to justice. Access to a clean environment. Access to peace and wellness. 

This increase in access is counter-measured with environmental protection and dismantling corporate lobbying structures that influence or control Congress.

To me, this progressive platform can be boiled down to a single objective: creating a system in which all people have access to quality education, jobs, health, housing, and justice—regardless of race, gender, sexual expression, religion, economic status, or zip code.


Do you know what else falls under this progressive platform? School choice.


Consider Family A:

Two parents are considering where to send their firstborn child to kindergarten. They are not thrilled with the local neighborhood public school. They are privileged with the financial means to afford private school tuition. They apply for a spot and are offered admission. They choose to enroll their child in a private school.

Consider Family B:

Two parents are considering where to send their firstborn child to kindergarten. They are not thrilled with the local neighborhood public school. They would like to enroll their child in a school district in a neighboring town/catchment/county. The real estate costs more, but they are privileged with the financial means to afford the necessary rent/mortgage. They choose to move and enroll their child in their preferred neighborhood public school.

Consider Family C:

Two parents are considering where to send their firstborn child to kindergarten. They are not thrilled with the local neighborhood public school. They cannot afford private school tuition. They cannot afford to move to a new town/catchment/county/district. They have no choice but to enroll their child in their local neighborhood public school and hope for the best.

This is not progressivism.

This is inequitable access to quality education based on one’s financial standing.  

Here’s What Progressivism Looks Like

Consider Family D:

Two parents are considering where to send their firstborn child to kindergarten. They are not thrilled with the local neighborhood public school. They cannot afford private school tuition. They cannot afford to move to a new town/catchment/county/district. They look around for options. In addition to their local neighborhood public school, there is a parochial school, a charter school, and a public magnet school. They consider a voucher for the parochial school. They consider applying to the public charter school lottery. They consider applying for the public magnet school. They decide to apply for all of them. They receive the results and then choose to enroll their child in the school that is best for their family.

This is progressivism.  

Family A can still choose to pay private school tuition. Family B can still choose to move. But no longer is Family C left without an option because they cannot afford one.  

This, to me, is the heart of school choice.

It’s not about bashing teachers or teachers' unions. It’s not about privatizing education. It’s not about pushing religious education. It’s not about segregation.


School choice is about ensuring all families have access to quality educational opportunities for their children—regardless of race, gender, sexual expression, religion, socioeconomic status, or zip code.


What could be more progressive than that?

Zachary Wright 

Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating classes. Wright was a national finalist for the 2018 U.S. Department of Education's School Ambassador Fellowship, and he was named Philadelphia's Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2013. During his more than 10 years in Philadelphia classrooms, Wright created a relationship between Philadelphia's Mastery Schools and the University of Vermont that led to the granting of near-full-ride college scholarships for underrepresented students. And he participated in the fight for equitable education funding by testifying before Philadelphia's Board of Education and in the Pennsylvania State Capitol rotunda. Wright has been recruited by Facebook and Edutopia to speak on digital education. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he organized demonstrations to close the digital divide. His writing has been published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Citizen, Chalkbeat, Education Leadership, and numerous education blogs. Wright lives in Collingswood, New Jersey, with his wife and two sons. Read more about Wright's work and pick up a copy of his new book, " Dismantling A Broken System; Actions to Close the Equity, Justice, and Opportunity Gaps in American Education"—now available for pre-order!

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