Too much choice? Or not enough?

School choice is a failure because it doesn’t guarantee access to a high-quality, neighborhood middle school in her majority-black Washington, D.C. neighborhood, complains Natalie Hopkinson in a New York Times op-ed.  The district closed the local middle school for poor performance and low enrollment, complains Hopkinson, the founding editor of a black e-zine,  The Root. She doesn’t like the new K-8 nearby — low test scores, no algebra or foreign languages — and her son has to compete with other students for admission to a high-performing charter, magnet or private school outside the neighborhood.

If the old school had remained open, surely Hopkinson would have rejected it. Choice may not guarantee her son a place in an excellent and conveniently located school, but it’s created more options than kids from that neighborhood had before.

Hopkinson envies the “shiny new middle school” in an affluent part of town, notes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. But that’s not a product of  “Zip Code Education,” not school choice.

Furthermore, D.C. was losing public school students and closing schools for years before the first charter school was created, Biddle writes. Middle-class parents of all colors moved to the suburbs — more Zip Code Education — for better schools.

Hopkinson lives in Northwest D.C.  Students are zoned into low-performing middle schools, but they now have choices, Biddle writes.

Instead, you can enroll him in Howard University Middle School, one of the Center City Public Charter School branches — a former Catholic school converted into a charter just a few years ago — a Community Academy charter school, or  even one of KIPP’s charter schools. All of those choices are just minutes away from the Shaw metro . . .

As a middle-class parent, Hopkinson is choosing between district-run neighborhood and magnet schools, charters and private schools for her own children, but wants to restrict choice for others, complains Edspresso, which adds that she’s wrong about charter school performance.

In fact, DC’s charter schools make more and faster gains for all children, retain their students longer, and are boasting higher graduation rates. Those that don’t work do close — at a rate of 15% percent, a practice that still rarely happens in traditional public schools, even in this city where she believes officials are school closure crazy.

Washington D.C. didn’t offer good schools in working-class neighborhoods before parents had charter options and private-school vouchers. There was little incentive to create the kind of schools parents wanted. Few parents could afford private school tuition and they couldn’t all move to the suburbs.  If Hopkinson wants better schools and fewer wait lists and lotteries, she should support more choice, not less.

About Joanne


  1. georgelarson says:

    School choice is a failure because it doesn’t guarantee access to a high-quality,

    Freedom never guarantees inprovement. Freedom only allows a possibility of improvement..

  2. Guess she overlooked the obvious choice- moving. When our sons asked to attend a private high school, we sold our house and moved to another part of town to facilitate their education.

    Guess moms didn’t consider that…

    And by the way, since when would a neighborhood middle school offer anything more than what was already in the K-8 school?

    Whiny, whiny, whiny.

  3. The reformers made a conscious choice not to direct their energy, talent and money to neighborhood schools because they are deeply cynical. The point is not to offer great schools and great opportunities to all kids in the communities where they live. The point is to offer limited access for those savvy enough and mobile enough to access a (scarce) seat in the life boat. The rest? Unworthy of saving.

    That is the message of the education reform movement: Some of you, not all of you.

    Mike43, it’s pretty clear you’ve never been poor. Unfortunately, 25% of the children in our schools are. And in the most impacted urban neighborhoods in the country, that number approaches 100%. Whiny? Privilege makes you mean.