Critics of school choice say it shortchanges low-income black and Hispanic families in particular because so many moonlight, leaving them little time to investigate what is open to them. But if so, then why do 56 percent of blacks and 62 percent of Hispanics favor private-school vouchers (“The School Choice Election Bonus,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 14)?
Consider charter schools. Demand for admission far outstrips the supply of openings. For example, in New York City there are some 53,000 families on charter school wait lists. And in New Bedford, Mass. there are more than 446 families on a wait list for enrollment in a K-8 public charter school.
The news is similar elsewhere. There are now more than 400,000 students in Florida and 260,000 in Arizona who attend charters or receive tax-credit scholarships. Granted, not all of these are low-income blacks or Hispanics. But the majority of those on wait lists are low-income blacks and Hispanics.
I believe the number of students will continue to grow in the years ahead. That’s because parents of all races and socioeconomic status want the right to choose what they alone believe is best for their own children. Few parents are willing to sacrifice the education of their own children on an ideological altar. I don’t blame them.
As a product of a K-12 public-school education, it pains me to say this. But the evidence says I’m right. For example, state tax-credit scholarships, which Arizona started in 1997 and which Florida copied in 2001, appeal to more and more families. Equally popular are education savings accounts that allow parents to use state per-pupil funding for tutoring, private- school tuition and other education expenses.
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4 Replies to “School choice appeals to majority of blacks and Hispanics”
If the choice is between a chaotic neighborhood public school that enrolls all the children of the totally dysfunctional low-SES inner-city parents and a non-chaotic charter or private school that enrolls only children of parents who are relatively concerned/functional (that is, sufficiently concerned/functional to learn about the school, complete the application process and provide daily transportation), then many conscientious low-SES inner-city parents will choose the charter or private school.
But, it does not follow that inner-city school systems should opt for choice.
Rather, the far more reasonable approach is for inner-city school systems to implement reforms in the chaotic neighborhood public schools to improve those schools. Then the concerned/functional parents would be able to send their children to non-chaotic neighborhood public schools.
The neighborhood public schools usually have better teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services than the charters or the privates. If the school systems could eliminate the chaos in those neighborhood schools and could segregate the troublemaker students from the academically-oriented students in those neighborhood schools, then the children of the concerned/functional parents could attend the non-chaotic neighborhood schools with the better teachers, facilities, curriculum and support services. In other words, reintroduce tracking and improve behavior standards/discipline in the neighborhood public schools.
Labor Lawyer: In an ideal world, all neighborhood public schools would be so good that parents of all races would choose them. But that is not reality. That’s why wait lists are so long. And it’s why low-income black and Hispanic parents favor vouchers. If we believe in the democratic process, then we need to listen to them.
But WHY are so many of the neighborhood public schools not good? And, WHY are the charters/privates better? The charters and privates — by and large — do not have any magic bullets that distinguish what they do from what the neighborhood public schools do. If anything, the charters and privates have less-experienced/lower-paid teachers, a more limited curriculum, inferior facilities, and virtually zero support services relative to the neighborhood public schools. The big advantage that charters/privates have over the neighborhood public schools is that the charters/privates enroll better students — or, at least, the charters/privates screen out most of the problem students (via parental enrollment that screens out all the children of the unconcerned/dysfunctional parents and via counseling-out/expulsion that eliminates the screw-up students who do enroll).
Seems like the neighborhood public schools could reinstate tracking (based on a combination of ability, achievement, and behavior). Then, the better-behaved/academically-motivated kids could attend the neighborhood schools in classes where all the other kids were also better-behaved/academically-motivated. The neighborhood public schools could also do a lot to improve student behavior — particularly in the lower-track classes. They could add a second adult (not necessarily a teacher) to the classroom, establish/uniformly-enforce reasonable behavior standards, place non-compliant students in in-school suspension rooms or alternate schools, provide administrative support for teachers/administrators who enforce reasonable behavior standards, make it easier for teachers to impose traditional minor sanctions for misbehavior (like eliminating the bizarre requirement that a teacher cannot impose detention w/o first personally contacting the kid’s parent), and stop reprimanding teachers for referring insubordinate students to the “front office”.
Labor Lawyer: Charter schools and private schools play by an entirely different set of rules than traditional public schools. They are not legally required to enroll all who show up at their door, which is what traditional public schools must do by law. As a result, they can demand that parents sign a contract in one form or another to be involved in their children’s education. The exact duties are spelled out. Traditional public schools cannot do the same., It comes as no surprise, therefore, that charter and private schools are able to post far better results.