Monday, April 26, 2010

How the NYC public school system really works

Below is a very powerful email from a friend about how the NYC public school system (and, I'm sure, pretty much every public school system) really works, the political difficulty of changing it, and why high-quality charters (whether creaming or not) are an important option for low-income families:


Every great DOE school is selective -- whether by test score or by Realtor, if you know what I mean.


Look at the map of Manhattan District 2, one of the best public school systems in America. It could only have been drawn to intentionally ensure that white kids on Upper East Side, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village wouldn't have to bump shoulders with black and Hispanic kids.


Try renting a 2 bedroom apartment in that district for less than $3,000.


Does District 2 cream? Hell yes!  Kids there have benefitted from a double-whammy (which was designed to benefit white kids, but now is increasingly filled by Asian students): they attend a middle school where you have to ace the 4th grade tests to be allowed in.  They also get the best teachers in the city because who wouldn't want to teach the richest public school families in America?


Schools filled with rich kids, when the system is rigged in their favor (the education level of their parents, the reality that rich kid schools are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for teacher aides and books and such at fancy fundraisers, etc.), equals selective schools.


Then we give them the best teachers and we allow their test scores to mask the city's low aggregate scores. We create gifted and talented programs for them and give them a much stronger curriculum and higher expectations. We watch their parents spend a small fortune on afterschool tutoring and organized activities for their kids.


OF COURSE they do well with all that extra learning!


The NYC 'system' is rigged in favor of rich kids. (Joel Klein has tried to unrig it, but the political force is too strong.)


It is why poor kids need these opportunities that are provided by the 30-40% of charters that are really, really excellent.


My larger point: don't let yourself expend too much energy on debunking the "charters cream" kids argument.


The premise misses the point. The answer should be: who cares?


If you believe in the power of school choice, you HAVE to believe that choosers are somehow different than non-choosers. So parents who assert themselves and CHOOSE great schools for their kids are inherently different than parents who don't.


But we're talking about a public school system in NYC that already operates this way and favors students of means.


Why shouldn't we try to level the playing field of all this creaming by allowing low-income families these same opportunities?


Why should we stop charter schools if they provide a chance for low-income folks to be "creamed" if it means their kids will have better doors opened to them?

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