School choice? Or is it, “schools get to choose”?

A commenter on my blog wrote:

“School policies elevate some students and discourage others. It would most beneficial to our children if we could select a school based on what’s best for each child. When children, who love reading, writing and math, dread going to school because it’s dull an filled with policies that discourage higher-level thinking, it’s time to offer parents school choice with the ability for students to direct the $26,000 being paid for an average education and put it towards payment for and independant school. For middle income students, the independant schools will pick up the balance with financial aid. Just saying.”

I replied, and am now ‘revising and extending’ my remarks:

The average payment per pupil is nowhere near $26,000, it’s about half or less of that. Don’t forget that private schools (including parochial ones) only enroll a small fraction of the entire K-12 cohort in the US. There is absolutely no way they could absorb all of the ‘middle income students’ in America, and definitely could under no circumstances be able to ‘pick up the balance with financial aid’. If you are gonna be ‘saying’, then try saying something plausible.

Private schools, don’t forget, have the ability to pick and choose their students. Public schools do not have that privilege, unless they are a magnet-type school like Banneker SHS and School Without Walls HS in DC where my own kids went. Most charter school boosters will deny it, but charter schools can and do pick their student bodies. (but they have to be subtle about it)

Here’s any easy way to make sure your student body does NOT have the students from the most dysfunctional families:

Anybody who has had real contact with the poorest and most-down-and-out students in public schools can tell you of families where getting a parent or guardian to sign ANYTHING and also SHOW UP for an interview, is a completely impoossible goal to reach. Which means that the kids from the most-dysfunctional families won’t be applying to the highly-regarded charter schools here in DC like ELHaynes or Washington Latin or Yu Ying.

However, if a student from such a family DOES manage to pull him/herself together, write the application herself, coerce a guardian into both signing AND showing up, or arrange to change guardianship to an actually competent family member or friend, why, then that school has just managed to garner a real striver – somebody who is willing to work very hard to improver herself.

The ones who have already succumbed to despair, cynicism, or the allure of deeply criminal life and whose parents are missing in action?

Nope, no, practically never You won’t have those students even completing the application process. To the magnet schools or application charter schools. Problem neatly solved for the magnet schools and many charter schools.

The way we run education in this country seems to be a profoundly undemocratic way of running schools – and dare I say, a very umcharitable and un-Christian way as well if you define Christianity as being the precepts put forth in the Sermon on the Mount…

{Yeah, I don’t believe in any gods at all, but I was raised an Episcopalian Christian, and I certainly have read a lot of the Old and New Testaments, including a little bit in Hebrew. I know there are many, many highly incompatible versions of Christianity, including the ones who claim that Christ urges us to become rich and to cast stones against the unfortunate. (Seems to me those Christians pretty much ignore everything that is attributed to Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, but one could easily define Christianity ]

And it all goes back to the utter hypocrisy of the stirring words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – all written while he himself  held hundreds of captive men, women, and children enslaved and completely deprived of their Lives, their Liberty and any means of pursuing Happiness, unless they managed to escape somehow.

And where only a small minority of even the free white males could vote – those who were sufficiently wealthy. And where even teaching ANY African-American to read and write was a major criminal offense in many states!

It’s taken a lot of struggle over the past 240 years to get the right for all adults to vote, and the right for all children to go to school and get a good education, to be extended to ALL citizens. We still have forces finding new and interesting ways of denying darker-skinned and poorer citizens both of those rights. And when we see what conditions are like at Sidwell Friends School (where the Obama and Clinton kids attend(ed)) and at Hart Middle School (where only poor and working-class black families send their kids), the contrast in what we provide to kids for their Pursuit of Happiness is extremely stark.

Compare Charles Hart MS in far southeast Washington (over the Anacostia River on Mississippi Avenue in  Ward 8, the city’s poorest and most isolated region) which I tried to present here but ran into a snag with my computer. It’s a large building, about 150 meters long, but its entire ‘playground’ is a seldom-used asphalt basketball court. Nothing else.

Sidwell Friends’ upper Northwest middle-school campus covers almost three full city blocks, has tennis courts, a manicured football field, a soccer field atop a covered garage, and award-winning environmentally-conscious classroom buildings. And a very large chapel. And several other buildings. It lies between Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, two of the highest-priced, and nearly all-white, neighborhoods, of DC.

Children can watch the news on TV or whatever. They know the differences in how kids are treated. They aren’t stupid. They get the message that we, as a society, are sending.

(Disclosure: My brother went to Sidwell Friends over 50 years ago. I taught at a school like Hart in Anacostia called Moten MS, about 33 years ago. Night and day in terms of funding, classroom conditions, and wealth of families.)

 

 

 

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Whenever anyone starts going on about the superiority or even the supposed merits of choice, the first thing I do is point out that parents have NEVER had a seat at the table where what was going to be made available to choose from is decided upon, and that if they dare choose something not preordained by the powers that be they are marginalized and ridiculed. The next thing I do is to share this article which debunks all the myths of the value of choice quite nicely. http://horacemannleague.blogspot.com/2013/01/asymmetric-information-parental-choice.html

    Like


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