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In December 2002, I launched the Office of Innovation and Improvement within the U.S. Department of Education. I charged that office, under the leadership of Nina S. Rees, with promoting promising innovations in education and expanding parental options and information. I understood, even in those early days of the historic No Child Left Behind Act, that the law had the potential to set in motion a wave of innovation in our public schools, as teachers, principals, administrators, parents, and others worked to close the achievement gap among different groups of students that has plagued our nation for so many years. I suspected that, under the pressure for improvement created by the law, dedicated professionals would develop all kinds of innovative solutions to difficult problems, and I wanted an office to highlight and disseminate those solutions. And I was committed, as I have been my entire career, to ensuring that parents had a real say in the schooling of their young, as their first and most important teachers.
Fewer than 18 months later, I am proud to introduce the Innovations in Education series. These publications, to be released over the next six months, identify concrete, real-world examples of innovations flourishing throughout this great land in six important areas: public school choice, supplemental educational services, charter schools, magnet schools, alternative teacher certification, and school leadership.
We start with what might be the most challenging aspect of No Child Left Behind, but also an area of great opportunity: implementation of the law's public school choice provisions. For the past two years, some critics have complained that these provisions are impossible to put into place. Others have said that school districts will simply refuse to comply. Yet, this publication shows that superintendents and districts are indeed fulfilling their responsibilities and making public school choice work for their neediest students. It has not been easy, but the experiences of these districts can inform the work of others. By taking lessons from these case studies, districts can avoid starting from scratch.
To be sure, none of these districts is doing everything 100 percent right. And all of them had a head start, since they had adopted some form of public school choice before the federal law was passed. Surely, the requirement to provide such choice, while in line with America's principles and values, can be difficult to implement logistically. As we learn from this booklet, a strong public school choice program must be integrated into a district's overall strategy. Communication to parents, faculty, and the community must be accurate, consistent, and energetic. Transportation and scheduling challenges must be fully addressed. As a former superintendent, I know that this is no walk in the park.
But the message of this publication is loud and clear: it can be done. I sincerely hope that the examples and tools in this booklet-and the expanded resources available online at http://www.ed.gov/nclb/choice – will help you to make public school choice a reality in your community.
Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education