It’s not public if you can’t go

well-to-do Baton Rouge neighborhood wants to secede from the city school district, reports Margaret Newkirk on Bloomberg News. “Local control” would mean more money per student and fewer problem kids.

It’s a myth that public schools are public, writes Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias. It’s not public if you can’t go.

The way the word is used a school is “public” if it is owned by a government entity and thus part of the public sector. But a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there. Here in the District of Columbia anyone who wants to wander into a public park is free to do so (that’s what makes it public) but to send your kid to a good “public” elementary school in Ward 3 you have to live there. And thanks to exclusionary zoning, in practice if you want to live in Ward 3 you have to be rich.

. . . if you proposed randomly assigning students to schools to produce integrated instructional environments, you’d have an epic battle on your hands.

In D.C. at least, charter schools—unlike “public” schools—have to admit (or not admit) students on an equal basis regardless of which neighborhood they live in.

That points to a weird ideological divide, writes Jonathan Chait in New York.

Neighborhood schools are open to children who live close by and restricted to everybody else. Charter schools are open to all children in the city, and their slots are allocated by lottery.

. . . . Moderate liberals and conservatives want to expand and empower the public schools that admit everybody by random lottery. The lefties want to preserve geographic-based restrictions.

A major reason for this is obviously that charter schools are more aggressive about creating accountability standards to promote good teachers and coach up or replace bad ones.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch, who’s become an opponent of charter schools, “doesn’t favor all public schools — she likes the ones that exclude kids from outside neighborhood boundaries, because they’re also the ones where it’s hardest to fire teachers,” writes Chait. “She opposes the ones that can’t exclude children whose parents lack the wealth to buy property in-boundary.”

No choice for the wealthy

Actor Matt Damon, who opposes school choice for low-income students, has chosen to send his children to private school in Los Angeles, where he’s just moved, notes Andrew Rotherham in TIME, who calls the actor a “hypocrite.” The son of a teacher turned education professor, Damon has campaigned against education reform and in favor of public education. But he says there are no progressive public schools in Los Angeles, so “we don’t have a choice.”

Los Angeles has many charter schools and traditional public schools in demand by parents, responds Rotherham. Superintendent John Deasy offered to help Damon “tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

 In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

“Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college,” writes Rotherham. That increases social mobility and reduces inequality. “If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?”

Wealthy parents can afford to live in an area with excellent public schools. That’s the most common choice for those who value public education.

Damon’s new movie, Elysium, is about a future dystopia were the uber-wealthy live in an edenic space station — with great medical care — while the 99.9 percent suffer on a polluted Earth.

In 7 districts, 30% of students are in charters

More urban students are choosing charter schools, according to a new National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report. In seven school districts, 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in 25 districts, 20 percent are in charters and at least 10 percent are attending charters in 110 districts.

New Orleans is the number one charter city: 76 percent of students enrolled in charter schools in 2011-12,, up from 70 percent the year before. Also in the 30+ percent range are Detroit, Washington D.C., Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, Gary, and St. Louis.

Nationwide, charter schools enroll more than two million students with an increase of  200,000 students in 2011-12.

Georgians voted to expand charter schools in the November election. Now Superintendent John Barge plans to “brand” public schools in marketing campaign titled “Georgia’s Future. Now!” reports Education Week.

“A lot of folks don’t know the good things going on because we historically don’t do a good job telling them about it,” Barge said.

The effort . . . includes old-fashioned outreach: printed literature, knickknacks with a logo, a speaker’s bureau of teachers to address community groups. If enough private money is raised, it also will feature a Web TV comedy series — with hopes of the show being broadcast on Georgia Public Television — titled “Modern Teacher.” Styled after the television series “Modern Family,” it depicts life in a Georgia school.

Competition is healthy, but I doubt knickknacks will be effective with Georgians. The comedy series is a creative idea, but these things require very good writing.

Public educators must live with public policies

Education leaders need to get over their aversion to education policy, writes Rick Hess, who’s been teaching at Penn and Rice.

I had smart, talented leaders complain about ill-conceived accountability systems. About pols who weren’t willing to spend enough on schools. About why pols don’t listen to them or ask their advice. About how the pols ought to stick to their own business, and let educators run the schools. In general, the view was that policy is something done to them by meddling pols who don’t know their place.

Get over yourselves, advises Hess.

. . . Public schools spend public dollars and hire public employees to serve the public’s children. For better or worse, they’re going to be governed by public policies.

This isn’t new, he writes. Public policy always has determined spending, class size, subject matter and teacher qualifications. People notice it more now because there’s “substantial dissatisfaction with how schools are doing and with the effects of these older rules and regs.”

If you were an elected official and were responsible for elementary schools where only half of kids are reading at grade level and high schools where only fifty percent of students are graduating, it’d be pretty understandable (and laudable, even) to think you can’t simply trust the educators to do the right thing.

If you think educators should run public schools as they see fit, you have to believe that generals should set national security policy, police should write criminal law, doctors and pharmaceutical companies make health policy and bankers to regulate banking, Hess concludes.

Poll: Confidence in schools hits new low

Only 29 percent of Americans express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the public school system, down from 58 percent in 1973, according to a new Gallup poll.

Forty percent in the new poll had some confidence while 30 percent expressed little or none.

The survey also found record lows in public confidence in churches or organized religion, banks and TV news.

Public schools for the elite

I attended public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Chicago suburbs. Nearly all my classmates were white; none were poor. In fact, most were Jewish in elementary and middle school and tracking kept my high school classes majority Jewish as well. I got an excellent education. Diverse it was not.

Public schools in name only educate more than 1.7 million U.S. children concludes a Fordham Institute report on  “private public schools” with very, very few poor students (and few blacks and Hispanics).

More students attend these schools than attend charter schools. And in some metro areas, like New York’s, almost 30 percent of white students attend these exclusive schools. Because you have to be well-off enough to live in their attendance boundaries, these schools are more private than private schools—which at least give scholarships to some needy children.

. . .  there’s none of the outcry that surfaces when someone proposes vouchers so poor children can attend private schools at public expense. How come? And if the civil rights community is upset that charter schools serve “too many” poor and minority kids, why aren’t they upset that these “public” schools serve too many white and middle-class children?

The report include links to the all-affluent public schools in 25 cities. My schools don’t make it, probably because they’re too far from Chicago.

The report’s author, Mike Petrilli, whose elementary school makes the elite list, writes:

Unions and others love to hide behind their fealty to “public education” when arguing that charters or vouchers will lead to “exclusive” schools, whereby their beloved public schools “serve all comers.” Except, it turns out, when they don’t.

Interestingly, 79 charter schools made the list of 2,800 public schools serving few poor students. I’d be curious how that reflects the percentage of schools in the 25 urban areas.

Many private schools, especially Catholic schools, “do valuable work serving primarily poor students,” writes Eduwonk guest blogger Sara Mead. In addition, “many affluent public schools raise significant funds from private donations and other fundraising.”

The Coleman Report found private schools better integrated by income than public schools, Cato’s Andrew Coulson writes.

In New Jersey, which has many small school districts, one in four white or Asian students attends a public school with very few poor students, notes the New York Times. Only two percent of black students and three percent of Hispanics attend a wealthy school.