Home > Uncategorized > US News and World Report’s Argument that Choice Leads to Racial and Economic Integration is Full of Holes

US News and World Report’s Argument that Choice Leads to Racial and Economic Integration is Full of Holes

November 10, 2017

The title of a November 9, 2017 US News and World Report article by David Osborne and Emily Langhorne, “Charter Schools and School Choice Can Promote Integration in Public Schools“, is technically accurate but actually wrong…. and Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne’s arguments supporting the title are full of holes.

The article begins with this overview:

Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations, usually nonprofits. They are freed from many of the rules that constrain district-operated schools. In exchange for increased autonomy, they are normally held accountable for their performance by their authorizers, who close or replace them if they fail to educate children. Most are schools of choice, and unlike magnet schools in traditional districts, they are not allowed to select their students. If too many students apply, they hold lotteries to see who gets in.

Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne then turn to their sights to the one group who opposes these presumably wonderful opportunities for students: the teachers unions!

Not everyone acknowledges the potential of public charters and school choice to spur integration in America’s schools. Last summer, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten went so far as to label the school choice movement “the only slightly more polite cousin of segregation.”

In most charter schools, teachers choose not to unionize. Union memberships have shrunk as charter sectors have grown, so it’s no surprise that teachers unions hate charter schools and, by extension, school choice.

Anyone who’s read this blog or any other blog that supports public schools governed by elected boards serving all children in their community knows that choice advocates like to play on the resentment voters feel toward public unions in an effort to divert attention from their true agenda, which is to privatize a public service that has the potential to earn billions of dollars for a small group of elite investors. And anyone who took and passed Economics 101 realizes that paying the lowest wages possible will maximize profits, making unionization an anathema. And anyone who has tracked the record of privatizers knows that teachers in those schools are seldom given the opportunity to make the choice to join a union.

But Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne aren’t done making flawed assertions. They accurately contend that any “…conversation about integration quickly runs into this brick wall of residential segregation. Most of the previous methods for integration implemented by our traditional public school systems have failed. For instance, boundary shifts have spurred animosity between neighborhoods, and busing accelerated “white flight” rather than promote inclusion and increase integration.

Based on my experience and observations, the animosity seldom exists between neighborhoods: it exists in white and/or affluent neighborhoods who are afraid of having their children being required to attend schools with “those” children, where “those” children are of a different race or economic standing. I can’t think of any instance where parents of children born in poverty asked to remain in underfunded schools or where parents of black and brown students asked to remain in schools that served only children of color. Housing values, redistribution of taxes, and racism are the root of “animosity” when redistricting is proposed or boundaries are changed between districts.

Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne then offer illustrations of cases where large districts have created intra-district choice to good effect. These case studies prove that their title is accurate: Charter Schools and School Choice CAN Promote Integration in Public Schools. And the choice programs of the districts in question— with the exception of New Orleans— are the result of decisions made by school boards who were elected by the public and their schools are all governed by policies written and enacted by those elected boards.

But the collateral damage caused by the creation of charter schools is grossly understated. The change away from the traditional governance model of public schools results in a lack of accountability. When locally elected boards held to open meetings laws are replaced with privately owned and operated schools transparency disappears. When regulations are loosened in the name of “limiting restrictions” the working conditions for students and employees is weakened and students find themselves attending schools in converted storefronts in strip malls or, even worse, sitting in front of computers in their bedrooms. And when a poor performing charter school is closed or replaced the students lured to that school are left in the lurch.

Segregation by race and economics are seemingly intractable… but one action by a democratically elected legislature could remedy both problems. What if a State legislature raised sufficient funds to provide the same level of resources to schools serving children in poverty as are available to schools serving children in affluent neighborhoods. That would be a giant step toward creating funding equity. And what if a State legislature required that children in overcrowded and under resources schools be assigned to neighboring districts where class sizes are smaller? It strike me that such an action would cut through the residential segregation that is currently blocking the integration in public schools.

But instead of upsetting the choices the affluent voters are making relative to their residence or requiring those same affluent voters to pay more taxes, the school choice advocates seem inclined to take a course that not only retains residential choice, but offers a “free market” opportunity to “solve” these intractable problems. The result, unfortunately, is not a reinvention of American schools: it is a reinforcement of racial and economic segregation.


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