Back to School, Back to Basics

In the summer of 1961, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi opened training camp with the following greeting for his players:

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Lombardi wasn’t condescending to or insulting his players. He was reminding them how important it is to remember the basics.

Likewise, it’s important to frequently return to first principles, especially as our kids head back to school. What are the fundamental goals and principles of education?

It’s about the kids and what they need to succeed.

Governor Wolf  recently said, “all students should be educated through the public school system,” by which he meant district schools. In many other modern democracies, the industrial-revolution model of geographically districted education has faded with time in favor of education pluralism. From Australia to Denmark the outmoded notion of a uniform public education delivery system has evolved into a flexible system that gives parents the resources to educate their child in any school.


Because they kept their eye on why public education exists in the first place: giving kids what they need to be well educated and to succeed. Rather than stubbornly perpetuating the status quo, countries adopting education pluralism realized that public education exists to provide all children the best opportunity to learn and thrive regardless of their income, where they’re born, how expensive their home is, their religion, or their race. And the best way to do that is through retraining our perspective from systemic rivalry to parental choice.

All children deserve to thrive in an educational environment suited to their needs, not merely suited to their zip code.

Colleen Cook, a mom and U.S. Navy veteran, credits school choice with saving her son’s life. Her son with Asperger syndrome was struggling at the local district school, eventually attempting suicide. Ms. Cook enrolled her son in a cyber charter school tailored to his needs, where he is now thriving.

Solutions such as tax credit scholarships and Education Scholarship Accounts are what is needed to make Colleen’s success story more common. Schools improve when they have to compete with each other, and children improve when their education can flex to their needs.

Parents, not standardized tests, know what is best for their children.

International research has concluded that parents see beyond standardized test scores. In Colombia and Barbados, for example, parents were given the opportunity to choose the school their children attended, aided by school choice programs. The standardized test results from the students in these programs were mixed, but the real life success of the children was not. Students who won private choice lotteries went on to achieve greater earnings and other real-life outcomes compared to their peers who also applied but were not accepted.

In the spirit of trusting parents, the best solution is to give more children more opportunity by letting the money follow the child.

Vince Lombardi wasn’t a systems coach; he was a fundamentals coach. And that brought him and the Packers huge success. Sadly, Wolf is proving to be a systems governor, which is leading him to ignore the fundamental principles of education.

It’s time for Wolf and others who oppose education choice to move past dogmatic, archaic ways of doing things and get back to basics. Pennsylvania parents overwhelmingly want choice for their children because parents understand that it’s about the kids not the system.