Diverse Students Need Diverse Choices

Were a doctor to give every patient an aspirin regardless of their diagnosis, most would consider the doctor unqualified. Sure, the patients with a fever or a headache might be satisfied, but the same remedy would not work for everyone. 

Sadly, the public school model relies heavily on this misguided approach. Students with different interests, skills, and strengths are required to move at the same pace, learn the same material, and take the same tests.

The American classroom is a diverse place, and its students have diverse needs. To meet this challenge, many teachers adopt a strategy of differentiation. Put simply, differentiation is an approach that teaches each student according to his or her unique circumstances. It makes sense, and it has spread quickly. Teacher-led organizations such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) have created numerous professional development materials designed to help teachers differentiate their classrooms.

Even the teachers' unions have recognized the need for differentiation. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) supports differentiation—to an extent—as a measure that allows all students to succeed regardless of their personal and educational background.

The union’s support ends, however, when a parent prefers an education option outside of the public schools. PSEA has long opposed school choice measures and emphasizes the need to boost taxes and spending above all reforms. Increased spending, however, does not lead to an increase in learning. Any education system will fail if it cannot adapt to the needs of its diverse student population.

To meet this challenge, Pennsylvania lawmakers must continue to adopt measures that allow for choice in education.

Educational choice fulfills the promise of differentiation. It means that each student can be placed in a learning environment that meets his or her needs. Choice empowers parents – those who know their kids best – to make the right decisions about their children’s education. Forthcoming education savings account (ESA) legislation sponsored by Senator John DiSanto allows parents to customize their child’s learning with a flexible spending account to pay for multiple educational services.

Teachers who have adopted differentiation understand that every child learns differently. ESAs and other choice programs allow parents to act upon this truth.