Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Debate over school choice

Yesterday's post discussed how it is difficult to create effective schools in poor neighborhoods: first class physical facilities aren't enough.  However, school choice isn't uniformly seen as helping: recent editorials in Boston and New York have championed the idea of returning to something more like neighborhood schools.  The theme seems to be that school choice is a poor substitute for having uniformly excellent local schools.

The Boston Globe ran a series of four editorials.

1. Boston Globe editorial: School-assignment plan — a relic in need of a full overhaul
"whenever officials reassess the Boston school-assignment plan, the busing crisis remains the touchpoint. Segregation was the original sin of the Boston schools - the conscious failure to invest in schools in poor, black neighborhoods - and remains the most oft-cited reason why the city should resist proposals to return the system to its neighborhood roots.
"Boston’s punishment is a daunting, time-consuming assignment process that drives away thousands of families - some to charter schools, some to Metco, and many out of the city entirely. It’s a plan that doesn’t remotely provide desegregation - with some schools more than 99 percent minority - but that officials are reluctant to change for fear of upsetting the fragile political equilibrium that sustains it.
"What remains is a system where students travel on buses to schools far from their homes, a daily migration that deprives them of playmates, consumes precious hours that could be devoted to learning, and costs the city $73 million - about 10 percent of the schools budget - for transportation alone.
"In addressing the sins of the past, the current assignment plan also masks the sins of the present. A formula so complicated that only the most sophisticated parents understand it, the plan combines parental choice, the luck of the lottery, and a built-in preference to keep siblings together. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the whole buckling contraption is designed to make up for the fact that about half of Boston’s schools rank in the bottom fifth on statewide tests."

2. Boston Globe editorial proposing smaller zones which "would give families a smaller range of choices, but make them more meaningful": Let students stay near homes — but offer choice as needed

3. Globe editorial on a successful pilot school: Leadership and flexibility, not buses, improve schools

4. Last in the series, Globe editorial imagining how a system of largely neighborhood schools should work: Future of Boston schools must reflect city’s transformation
""The Boston of the 1970s is long gone. What’s needed now is a return to normality, to a system where most kids go to school near their homes, and follow a predictable path to middle school. Those who seek a different experience - through the performing arts, two-way bilingual education, or intensive math and science, among other subjects - can find exciting options through magnet schools. Choice should be used to highlight the varied programs available in a big, urban system - not as a way to scramble the map, sending children on an hours-long odyssey in search of better principals and teachers."

The Bay State Banner summarizes their view of this debate: Superintendent to take on school assignment process
"The current school assignment process has been roundly criticized by parents in neighborhoods throughout the city. While many in the white community, including many city councilors, advocate for a return to a neighborhood schools system, where seats in any given school would be reserved for children who live in close proximity, many parents in the black community say they want better choices for their children."

NY Times op-ed: Why School Choice Fails, in which a Washington D.C. mom writes about how the process of closing failed schools left her neighborhood without any neighborhood schools.

And here's a NY Times letter in support of school choice: Does School Choice Improve Education?
"If access to high-performing schools has to come down to a number, better it be a lottery number than a ZIP code."

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