Why School Choice Fails
A truly dopey, misguided, ill-informed column that's nothing more than a biased rant – the very definition of "the Tyranny of the Anecdote" – that for some bizarre reason the NYT thought was worthy of putting on its op ed page:
My neighborhood's last free-standing middle school was closed in 2008, part of a round of closures by then Mayor Adrian Fenty and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. The pride and gusto with which they dismantled those institutions was shameful, but I don't blame them. The closures were the inevitable outcome of policies hatched years before.
In 1995 the Republican-led Congress, ignoring the objections of local leadership, put in motion one of the country's strongest reform policies for Washington: if a school was deemed failing, students could transfer schools, opt to attend a charter school or receive a voucher to attend a private school.
The idea was to introduce competition; good schools would survive; bad ones would disappear. It effectively created a second education system, which now enrolls nearly half the city's public school students. The charters consistently perform worse than the traditional schools, yet they are rarely closed.
Meanwhile, failing neighborhood schools, depleted of students, were shut down. Invariably, schools that served the poorest families got the ax — partly because those were the schools where students struggled the most, and partly because the parents of those students had the least power.
Competition produces winners and losers; I get that. Indeed, the rhetoric of school choice can be seductive to angst-filled middle-class parents like myself. We crunch the data and believe that, with enough elbow grease, we can make the system work for us. Naturally, I've only considered high-performing schools for my children, some of them public, some charter, some parochial, all outside our neighborhood.
But I've come to realize that this brand of school reform is a great deal only if you live in a wealthy neighborhood. You buy a house, and access to a good school comes with it. Whether you choose to enroll there or not, the public investment in neighborhood schools only helps your property values.
For the rest of us, it's a cynical game. There aren't enough slots in the best neighborhood and charter schools. So even for those of us lucky ones with cars and school-data spreadsheets, our options are mediocre at best.
Given that this article is total idiocy, why am I taking so much time/space (below) to rebut it? Two reasons: A) Like it or not, a lot of people share the views expressed here, however misguided; and 2) It can't be ignored: it was on the NYT op ed page and Ravitch, Weingarten, etc. are doing their best to draw even more attention to it.
So let's start tearing this apart, starting with the facts (what a novel idea!). A friend looked up Natalie Hopkinson's address online and learned that she's mistaken (deliberately lying?) in her opening paragraph when she writes, "there's been no neighborhood [middle school] option available." In fact, there IS a middle school four blocks from her home and there's a KIPP charter school nearby as well. In total, there are two charters AND two regular public middle schools within a mile of her home. RiShawn Biddle's column (below) has more on this.
December 4, 2011