School choice is (real estate) market based

“Private public schools” are “open to anyone who can afford expensive real estate,” writes Matt Yglesias in Slate.

Michael Petrilli estimates that 2,800 public schools “serve virtually no poor students.”  Yglesias thinks there are many more schools with a “smattering” of low-income students.

You often hear for good or for ill some proposal or set of proposals described as a “market-based” reform to the education system. But the fact is that a market-based school choice scheme is at the very core of American public education, it’s called the real estate market.

There isn’t enough room in “good” schools to take everyone who wants to come, responds Theodore Ross in The Atlantic.

In what he calls a “zoning-free Yglesiastopia,” no weight would be given to local residency in school enrollment. Yglesiastopia must be a place with infinite resources, one in which the good schools are large enough for all, and where no allocation process whatsoever—financial, racial, ethnic, linguistic, or residential—need be implemented. Let students flock to the quality schools and the problems in our educational system will disappear. Hail Yglesiastopia!

Ross lives in New York City and sends his son to first grade at the “zoned” public school a block away. “A forbidding grey-brick hulk . . . it is safe and clean and cheery enough inside.”

Happily, the school zone from which it draws most of its population is diverse, with a student body almost evenly split between white and Hispanic students, and sizable numbers of African- and Asian-American kids, too. . . . Sixty-nine percent of the student body is eligible for the free lunch program.

It is considered a good school, which means it’s hard for children outside the zone to get in.

Parents blame parents for bad schools

Most Americans support school accountability, but also want to hold parents accountable too, concludes Will It Be on the Test? by the Kettering Foundation and Public Agenda. Based on focus groups held around the country, the report compares the views of parents and reform leaders.

Many see the accountability movement as “profoundly incomplete because it provides so few answers to problems they see as pivotal—too many irresponsible parents, too many unmotivated students, too little support from the community, and messages from society that undermine learning and education.

Only 29 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools, according to Gallup polls. That’s “a new low in public school confidence,” Gallup reports. In the early 1970s, 58 percent were confident of public school quality.

Just 2 percent of parents thought that the drive to raise standards in public schools should “be stopped and things should go back to the way they were.”

. . . surveys show continuing support for the basic goals of the accountability movement—that American children can and should learn at higher levels, that students from all backgrounds should have the chance to succeed, and that principals and teachers should be well trained and energetic in helping students learn. In fact, more than half of the parents (56 percent) say that enacting proposals to measure teacher effectiveness based on student performance should be a top priority for education reform.

In some cases, parents identify areas they believe need more attention (parent involvement and student behavior, for example). In others, they point to reforms that seem to them to be getting out of hand (testing, the drive to close poorly performing schools).

Most parents value neighborhood schools, even if they’re not performing well, and want to seem them improved,  not closed, the report found.

Closing bad schools — a civil rights issue?

Closing or reorganizing low-performing urban schools discriminates against black and Hispanic students whose schools are most likely to be targeted, charge community activists in the Journey for Justice Movement.

Closing neighborhood schools is “a violation of our human rights,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago, in a meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday.

Helen Moore, an organizer from Detroit, said the current reform movement is tantamount to racism. “We are now reverting back to slavery,” she said. “All the things that are happening are by design, by design, by design. They don’t want our children to have an education, but we’ll fight to the death.”

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating civil rights complaints against Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark. Closure plans in New York, Chicago and Washington also have been challenged. However, 27 investigations in the last few years found no bias in school closures. Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said the Education Department doesn’t have the power to order a moratorium on school closings. (Finally, there’s something the feds think is out of their jurisdiction!)

Why would anyone fight to the death for schools with low test scores, high dropout rates — and empty classrooms?

Urban schools aren’t just a place for education, says Sarah Garland, author of Divided We Fail on the end of school segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. “For most people their high school is part of who they are and who the community is.”

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.

Life’s a carnival

Bellringers is hosting the theme-free Education Buzz Carnival. (She was going to do a homecoming theme but was sidetracked by her school’s homecoming madness.)

At Scheiss Weekly, Mamacita writes about how to tell good parents from bad parents.

With the demise of neighborhood schools, students can’t participate in school functions these days unless a parent can drive them back to school, she writes.

A child whose parents are unable or unwilling to drive him/her to school in the evening will not be able to participate in the things that make school fun, such as choir, plays, programs, sports, band, etc. I am still sickened by the father who refused to drive his son to the ratio station’s big spelling bee playoff because he wanted to watch a ball game and, dammit, he’d worked all day and was tired.  His son had to forfeit because he had a lazy father.

Some parents can’t serve as chauffeurs. Others can’t be bothered.

Those parents who chose TV and personal relaxation over their child should be dragged out into the streets and shot, and their children given to GOOD parents.

That’s Mamacita: Firm but fair.