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Reeder: Education choices are deserved

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:51 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 6:56 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – After several weeks of trying to teach my second-grader how to ride a bicycle, I became pretty frustrated.

I tried instructing Gracie the same way my parents taught me when I was 6. But I couldn’t understand what was going wrong.

My poor mother must have run miles up and down West Street in Galesburg with one hand on my bicycle seat, hollering, “You can do it, Scotty! You can do it!”

But for my oldest daughter, this strategy proved less than effective. In fact, about the only thing this method seemed to accomplish was give me a really good workout.

So what’s a modern parent to do?

I turned to YouTube. After watching three videos on teaching a child how to ride a bike, I altered my approach.

Instead of running behind her while she learned to pedal, steer, brake and balance herself, I took Gracie to the top of our neighbor’s driveway and let her practice coasting to the bottom of it without pedaling.

Once she had mastered balancing herself, we worked on pedaling. Then it was steering.

And after a spill in the neighbor’s yard – in which Gracie announced she will never get on a bicycle again – we continued to work on braking.

Teaching is difficult. Every child learns differently. Methods that work for some don’t work for others. For example, when I read with my kids, I find they master words differently. One likes to sound out words. Another recognizes them by sight.

I can’t say one learning method is better, because my little girls learn in different ways.

I attended public schools and universities – from kindergarten through graduate school – and found it to be a mostly positive experience.

My children attend parochial schools because my wife and I value the structure, the religious education and the accountability of the teachers.

A friend, who is a scientist, withdrew his daughter from public high school and had her study an online curriculum for a year. She now is flourishing in college.

I have friends who home-school their children and they think it is great. Charter schools are a solution many other parents have pursued.

Ultimately, parents must choose what they believe is best for their children. Unfortunately, there are some in the General Assembly who want to limit that choice.

The Illinois House recently passed a bill that takes aim at charter schools. Such schools receive public funding but operate with more independence than other public schools. Students may be drawn from across a district, rather than a specific neighborhood, and while faculty members can join unions, they often choose not to.

It’s that final point that has teachers unions and their legislative allies taking aim at charter schools and trying to undo modest reforms.

Just three years ago, Illinois created a Charter School Commission that groups wanting to create charter schools could appeal to if a local school board said, “No.”

The commission is really the forum of last resort for those seeking to create a charter school. Even so, about 95 percent of the time, that commission also says, “No.”

But that’s not good enough for the state’s two teachers unions. They want the commission dead. Finished. Defunct. Kaput.

In simple terms, charter schools are a threat to the unions’ business model. If charter schools weren’t working, parents would refuse to enroll their children in such institutions. But they are an effective alternative.

After all, no child learns the same way. And all parents deserve a choice.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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