School Choice is the Millennial Choice

By Mike Long

When I first began teaching in the Durham Public School System in the early 1980s, cell phones were a brand new concept. Those willing to pay the $10,000 dollars (adjusted for inflation) needed to buy one of these devices earned them the privilege of selection from just a handful of options on the market at the time.

Fast-forward to today: There are over 2.71 billion smartphones in the world, and the average consumer has between 60 and 90 apps on his or her phone.

In less than 35 years, “choice” has proliferated exponentially in so many areas of our lives—not just cell phones. Because of this, it is little wonder that Millennials (in their mid-20s to late 30s) prize options in all parts of their lives.

That preference for options extends to education as well. As Millennials increasingly have school-age children and begin to make personal educational choices for them, we are beginning to see a pattern emerge. These families are not happy being told where their kids should go to school simply because of their zip code.

A GenForward survey released by USA Today in 2017 showed that nearly three-fourths of Millennials support school vouchers for low-income children and two-thirds for all students. Another poll by the American Federation for Children put Millennial support for school choice at 75 percent.

All of these polls also find strong support for school choice across ethnic lines, with 79 percent of African Americans, 76 percent of Asian Americans, 77 percent of Latinos, and 66 percent of whites supporting it.

In the golden age of public schools in America, parents acquiesced to being part of a traditional school community so they could fit in. But those days are long past us. Today, Millennial parents want to make sure a school meets their child’s specific needs first. Only then will they become an active part of that school within that community. If the school does not meet their child’s needs after all, Millennials have no problem pulling their child and going to another. This behavior is causing school choice to become more and more popular.

Remember, Millennials are around 71 million strong and are expected to overtake Baby Boomers in 2019 as the largest living generation in the U.S.

In other words, demand for school choice will only increase in the coming years. Educational leaders have two options: Live in the past by supporting a one-size-fits-all approach that prioritizes control over parents, archaic institutions, and bureaucracy. Or look to the future and support a reformed system that empowers parents to make the best choice for their individual child.

Clearly, the future is educational reform. It will serve as a catalyst for educational excellence across the board—for every child regardless of income, race, or zip code.

Mike Long is a 35-year educator with experience as a middle school teacher, an AP US History teacher, a high school principal and a Head of School. Long is the President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a non-profit organization that advocates for quality educational options through parental school choice.