Home > Uncategorized > Desegregation: Is the Best Way Chance, Choice, Charters, or Investing in ALL Schools?

Desegregation: Is the Best Way Chance, Choice, Charters, or Investing in ALL Schools?

December 24, 2015

Last week the NYTimes ran an article by Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres titled “What Would it Take to Integrate Our Schools?” The op ed piece described the reality of NYC schools, which are highly segregated, and suggested the best way to address this issue was through “controlled choice”:

Rather than assign students to a zoned neighborhood school, controlled choice allows parents to rank their school preferences across a district — and then uses a computer algorithm to balance those choices to achieve a diverse mix of students in each school. The mix can be based on a variety of socio-economic, academic and geographic categories that the Supreme Court has ruled are permissible.

While Lander and Torres might argue the point, “controlled choice” is really a lottery… and while it might result in racially diverse schools it would more likely result in even more economic stratification since few parents would choose to attend under-resourced schools in dangerous neighborhoods. Indeed, at the end of the article Lander and Torres acknowledge that after years of work controlled choice would fall short of the mark:

…we’d still be left with many segregated schools. But we would be moving forward to address a grave injustice. And by showing that diverse schools work, we will build support for even more — both here and across the country.

Today’s Times has several letters offering alternatives to “controlled choice”, all but one of which are based on some form of choice. One letter from the Executive Director of Magnet Schools sees them as the solution. A second letter from a group of Hebrew Charter Schools sees their schools’ recruitment strategies that aim for diversity as the solution. And a charter school executive sees the proliferation of new charters into all neighborhoods as the solution. One writer, a Brooklyn parent, Steve Hamill, states the obvious: improving ALL schools might be the best way since parents base their choices on the schools that have the most resources and, as it stands now in Brooklyn, the schools with the most choices are those whose parents can dig deepest in their pockets. And how deep are they digging?

Give the excellent new principal at Public School 282 — my son’s school — $3 million for more programming (the fund-raising difference between our P.T.A. and a neighboring private school), and parental choice will drive desegregation and improve educational outcomes.

That’s only $3,000 a child per year for my son’s school. Scale up this level of investment systemwide, and a million children would benefit.

How schools can achieve equitable outcomes when they have different resources bases? The short and obvious answer is: they can’t! Hamill concludes his letter with this paragraph:

To fix the injustice of our segregated schools, this proposal (i.e. controlled choice) must be matched with a sizable investment from the city and the state to make sure that even the children who lose a better “lottery” can get an excellent school.

Hamill is right… but his idea that equity can only be accomplished through more spending would not warrant an op ed piece in the newspaper… it would be dismissed as “throwing money” at schools… which only seems to work in affluent neighborhoods and communities and has no relevance whatsoever when discussing schools serving children raised in poverty.

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