Parent Choice in Education – What are the choices?

School Choice, aka Parent Choice, has come to the foreground  in New Jersey. With the 2009 election of Governor Chris Christie came support for  more parent choice. The Times of Trenton printed an OpEd piece dated January 24, 2010, which  reads, “This is why school choice advocates worked day and night for the election of  Chris Christie for governor. He campaigned with the promise of school choice,  while former Gov. Jon Corzine opposed it.” The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a report called “Choosing to Succeed” which stated, ” There are a host of other reform measures that schools across the country can and should pursue. Without the competition presented by choice, they have little incentive to do so. Choice is the catalyst for the systemic reform that is so desperately needed.”

There are many opponents to Parent Choice. The Washington Post publishes a blog called The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss. One of Strauss’s posts stood against Parent Choice, because Washington D.C. charter schools expel children at much greater rates, 72 to 1 compared with neighborhood schools. “While dumping problem students from your books like a subprime loan is effective business management, it’s also a deeply unethical way to operate a system of public education.”

While the debate over whether or not Parent Choice is a good idea, there are numerous types of school choices already available to New Jersey  parents. However, not all of them are accessible. The most obvious available  choice that is inaccessible is private school. In Mercer County, the private  schools are available to parents, but the tuition makes them financially inaccessible. Take for example The Lawrenceville School of  Lawrenceville, NJ. It’s tuition for high school (day, not boarding) is $42,185  a year. The tuitions of some of the private high schools in the Princeton area are tabulated below.

High School

Day Students

Boarding Students

Hun School

Top of Form$33,400.00

Bottom of Form

Top of Form$48,550.00

Bottom of Form

Lawrenceville School

Top of Form$42,185

Bottom of Form

Top of Form$51,025

Bottom of Form

Lewis School

NA

Newgrange School

$50,725.12

Notre Dame High School

$10,920 / $11,420

(Catholics / Non-Catholics)

Peddie School

$39,000

$47,500

Pennington School

Top of For$30,950

Bottom of Form

Top of Form$46,100ttom of Form

Princeton Day School

Top of For$31,210ottom of Form

Princeton Latin Academy

$12,000

Princeton Learning Cooperative

$12,000

SciCore Academy

$9,720

Sister Georgine School

NA

Stuart Country Day of the Sacred Heart

Top of Form$31,800ottom of Form

The Bridge Academy

paid for by school district

Trenton Catholic School Upper School

$9,700

Villa Victoria

$12,000

Then there are the public school choices. New Jersey made available to parents charter schools, magnet school, career academies, and public schools in other districts. Charter schools are deemed inaccessible, because the lottery system makes them inaccessible from a probability standpoint. A charter school for elementary and middle school not high school, Princeton Charter School’s website states, “Every year there have been more applicants to the school than spaces available, thus students are selected for admission by random lottery, with the rest of the applicants placed on the waiting list.” The Hoboken Charter School, which has kindergarten through high school, has explicit lottery procedures that give priority to certain families.

The following list outlines  the priority order for admission with regard to waitlists and the reserve pool:

1.The Hoboken Resident Sibling Waitlist

2.The Out-of-District Sibling Waitlist

3.The Hoboken Resident Waitlist

4.The Out-of-District Waitlist

New Jersey implemented the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which provides students with the option of attending a public school outside their district of residence without cost.

 Under this School Choice Program, interested New Jersey school districts can apply to become choice districts. These are districts that designate specific open seats into which they will accept nonresident students at the expense of the state. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Education selects the choice districts from those districts that have submitted a competitive application.

The districts approved to participate offer unique academic emphasis or other benefits like smaller class sizes. One particular school district, the North Burlington County Regional School District, offers a specialized program on Agriscience.

Agriscience education cultivates students’ interest in animals, plants, and/or mechanics. Connections to engineering, environmental technologies, international trade relations, and natural resources are highlighted as students prepare for careers in this rapidly advancing industry. Agricultural Education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems.

 In Mercer, Middlesex and Essex counties, high immigrant population areas, no school district participated in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.  Public transportation is available to students who live within 20 miles of the school. If the student is more than 20 miles away, then parents need to provide transportation to and from school. The complete list of school districts participating in the program for the 2013-2014 school year can be found on an interactive map.

Career academies and magnet schools, which are available to all students in a county, stand out, because some achieved top national rankings in the 2013 U.S. News and World Report high school rankings. Biotechnology High of Monmouth County, a career academy, was ranked #8 in the nation, and  High Tech High of  Monmouth County, another career academy was ranked #12.  Bergen County Academies, which are magnet schools, was ranked #34 in the nation. A full list of New Jersey high school rankings can be found on the U.S. News and World Report website, and a full search on all the career academies by geographic area or career objectives can be found on the NJ DOE webpage, Career and Technical Education Programs & Programs of Study in NJ Schools. However, career academies and magnet schools have admissions policies. They are accessible only to top performing students.

Mercer County Technical Schools, a county wide school district open to all residents of Mercer County, also has a career academy called Health Science Academy. It offers a full-time four-year program that  prepares for college or employment in the health care field. Hence, the Mercer County Technical Schools takes a different approach, because it admits students based upon interest.    The Mercer County Technical Schools also offer numerous types of part time programs called Shared Time High Schools, such as Architecture and Construction. The district’s website lists all Shared Time High Schools. Dr. Kim Schneider, Superintendent of the Mercer County Technical Schools, and alumna, Bethany Andrade, MSW, share their school district with us.

Mercer County Technical Schools from Education Roundtable on Vimeo.