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This week marked the annual National School Choice Week with events across the country promoting “education options” such as charter schools and vouchers.
Everyone loves “choice,” right? In a country where every year brings us 100 new choices for how to brush our teeth, maximizing “choice” appears to be the holy grail no matter what the enterprise.
It turns out there’s a lot wrong with school choice.
As People for the American Way points out,
“National School Choice Week is deliberately designed to blur important differences in educational policies…National School Choice Week wants everyone to be so busy cheering and dancing for the broad concept of giving parents and students educational options that they don’t stop to think about these distinctions.”
We asked some of our Progressive Education Fellows what they thought about the important “distinctions” regarding the meaning of “choice.” Here’s what they said:
Ashana Bigard, Southcentral Regional Fellow
When I hear the word choice, I understand someone is choosing not to invest in black native New Orleans.
After Hurricane Katrina, 125,000 native New Orleans, a lot of them the poorest and most black, did not come back to New Orleans. And while $71 billion came to New Orleans after the storm, black people here now have 18% less income and wealth. The millions of dollars poured into our education system mostly went to new charter schools and charter management groups and organizations, such as New Schools New Orleans. These groups funnel money to consultants and start ups, many not from New Orleans. In New Orleans we have 97% charter schools and only five traditional schools. And despite the millions being spent, many children and families are not getting what they need. We have 26,000 young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or working. They call them “opportunity youth.” They are products of the new charter school system.
One of the five remaining traditional schools is Benjamin Franklin elementary school, a highly sought after school with good test scores and about 800 children on the waiting list any given year. This year, the new superintendent cut Franklin’s funding for afterschool tutoring activities and tutoring for fourth-grade test prep and stopped allowing the children to go on field trips. No one asked parents or children whether any of this was a good idea. It’s like they’re trying to make a great school into a failing school.
In New Orleans, school choice is the ability of the schools to choose if, how, and where to teach our children.
Dora Taylor, Northwest Regional Fellow
School choice in Seattle meant the “McEducation” of schools in communities of mostly non-white students. Powerful interests behind the charter school industry pressed for closing alternative school programs that were the gems of the district and then attempting to replace them with corporate charter school chains. Charter advocates then proclaimed that students now had a “choice.”
The consequences of the “choice campaign” are false promises and dashed hopes for children who have suffered enough.
Jennifer Berkshire, Northeast Regional Fellow
On the eve of school choice week in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe ran a front page article about the school choice NOT made: universal pre-k. Officially enacted in 2008, universal pre-k in the Bay State remains more “pre” than universal. Unlike the deep-pocketed campaign to increase the number of charter schools, pre-k has no powerful political backers or army of lobbyists. There is no multi-million dollar ad campaign intended to soften up legislatures, or marches across the Boston Common, led by state officials demanding access to quality pre-k now.
Well, there’s one official singing a different tune: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Under fire from parents over yet another round of budget cuts to the Boston Public Schools, Walsh used his State of the City address to call on the state to help provide quality pre-k for every four year old in the city of Boston. To which the state said, well, nothing. While our Republican governor’s State of the State address was heavy on references to parents on charter wait lists, there was no nod to the thousands of parents waiting for pre-k. In fact, Governor Baker made no mention of universal pre-k at all, but renewed his call, yet again, for more charters.
As school choice week winds down, yet more high-profile pols have thrown their weight behind charters—the school choice fix of choice, that by definition can only help a limited number of kids, even as the brutal calculus of school budgets deplete the education choices of the kids who remain in what’s left of the public schools. But nary a mention of a political choice that would help all kids. Why is that?
To see the article in full, go to The Progressive.