By: Shaunette Parker, PhD, Contributing Writer
I am an advocate for education choice and making drastic changes within the education system that push the boundaries of innovation. I believe there is no one way to educate children. We need to do a better job of matching education to children instead of trying to fit children (or adults for that matter) into a specific box. But, first and foremost, I am a student and teacher of psychology. Through my doctoral studies of Educational Psychology, I spent quite a bit of time considering the intersection between education and psychology. As I work to encourage out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to addressing challenges with our education system, those who push back on new education innovations make me think of the concept, functional fixedness.
Functional fixedness is a roadblock to problem-solving because it prevents us from thinking of alternate solutions to problems. We continue to apply the same strategies while expecting a different result. For example, when asked to create a learning environment, more often than not, people will likely feel the need to find a space where tables and chairs can be assembled facing the front of the room with a teacher and some books. For decades, we have been told that these are the optimal tools for effective learning environments. (Please don’t jump down my back just yet, I know this isn’t for everyone and some things are changing. And in some cases, this type of environment works. But let’s be honest, numerically speaking, this is what the majority of learning environments look like with little to no variations and clearly, not all students are doing well in this space). Most of you would agree, that there are some alarming issues within our education system, and something needs to be changed to ensure more children are being served well. We should be able to see that using the same tools in the same way are resulting in the same disheartening results. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2021), only 23% of South Carolina students are proficient in reading by grade four and 29% proficient in math. When data like this are disaggregated by demographics, it is even more alarming.
One big step toward addressing the disparities in education is by providing more options. We also need to put more power in the hands of those who know their children best, parents. An Education Scholarship Account (ESA) is one step toward providing access to education options. It puts parents in the position of power to customize their child’s education. Currently, Mississippi, Arizona, and Florida are reporting excellent success with their ESA programs. Arizona has the nation’s oldest ESA program, reporting a 100% satisfaction rate. Furthermore, despite naysayer fears that ESA’s are detrimental to traditional public education, Arizona has not seen a mass exodus of students from their public schools. As reported by EdChoice, public schools in environments that have choice programs like ESAs see academic growth and success.
ESAs create an environment in which children can attend schools and access supportive resources that meet their needs. The expansion of choice encourages each education provider to seek ways to improve their services and ensure they are being innovative with their approaches.
Ultimately, an ESA is a tool that can interrupt the functional fixedness that has been blocking effective growth and change within the education system. Since there isn’t one perfect solution to the challenges we face with education, an ESA creates the landscape for flexibility and choice.
Dr. Shaunette Parker is the Outreach Director of My SC Education. She works to support positive youth development and effective education in underserved communities. She has done this work for more than 15 years, and is a leading voice for School Choice.