School-choice politics are changing as more middle-class parents choose charter schools, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next. Assertive “soccer moms and dads” provide “political heft to the broader charter movement.”
New charters in San Antonio offer more challenging classes than traditional schools, middle-class parents told Whitmire. “In Arizona, parents see charters as akin to high-end grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.”
Californians, especially in rural areas, see charters as “their only options for specialty schools such as Montessori and Waldorf,” he writes.
Most charters are located in low-income, high-minority neighborhoods and urban charters are growing rapidly, writes Whitmire. But some charter networks, such as New York City’s Success academies, are expanding to mixed neighborhoods.
Charters such as the Denver School of Science and Technology network and E. L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. try to attract a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix of families.
In San Antonio, parents seeking academic rigor can choose between Great Hearts, where “students wear uniforms, file quietly through the halls, and study the Great Books,” or two BASIS schools, where self-expression is encouraged.
“At Great Hearts, prospective teachers are first reviewed for their character,” while BASIS focuses on teachers’ content knowledge, writes Whitmire.
At the city’s two BASIS schools, 36 percent of the students are white, 33 percent Hispanic and 24 percent Asian-American, including many South Asian families.
By contrast, few Asians choose Great Hearts. About half the students are white and the “school attracts a great many middle-class Hispanics, including families who want their children to be part of the next-generation San Antonio leadership.”
“Middle-class parents are louder and have better access to decision makers,” said Victoria Rico, who runs a foundation that attracted high-performing charters to the city. “They write op-eds. They visit with their elected representatives. They question the status quo in a way that is great for all kids.”