Home > Uncategorized > Forbes’ Op Ed by Michael McShane Gets the Facts Right, But his Convoluted Conclusion is WAY Off Base

Forbes’ Op Ed by Michael McShane Gets the Facts Right, But his Convoluted Conclusion is WAY Off Base

December 19, 2018

Earlier this week Forbes published an op ed by Michael McShane, a self described student of “K-12 education, including entrepreneurship and school choice“, titled “Enrollment Fraud Reminds Us That Many Public Schools Aren’t Public“. The article describes a recent lawsuit filed by the DC public schools when they discovered that six of their students resided in a neighboring Maryland district. He followed up this account with the following paragraph:

Lying about one’s residence to gain access to a public school is called enrollment fraud (or residency fraud) and it is something that is more common than you might think.  Philadelphia public radio station WHYY did an in-depth storyabout enrollment fraud back in May that is worth listening to. They even shadowed an investigator who follows students home from school and videotapes them taking out the trash and walking dogs to prove that they are not living where they say that they are.

Mr. McShane reports this as if it is a new phenomenon that has only emerged in the past few years. This is clearly NOT the case! When I worked as an assistant principal in a school district that abutted Philadelphia we routinely culled out a half dozen students a year who were Philadelphia residents thanks to the work of a team of three district employees with anodyne title of “Pupil Personnel Workers” whose job was to gather evidence needed to establish the student’s true residency. The year was 1975— 40+ years ago. Oh, and roughly half of the bogus attendees in our district had been expelled from school in Philadelphia for disciplinary or truancy issues.

And residency fraud was not limited to districts adjoining cities. I encounter this issue throughout my career: as Principal and Superintendent in rural Maine, and Superintendent in affluent communities in New Hampshire, rural Maryland, and upstate New York.

Mr. McShane as a self-proclaimed student of K-12 education accurately identifies one of the major flaws of our existing system:

School district lines often act as invisible barriers to opportunity. Many poor families find themselves on the outside looking in. Prosecuting families that pierce those barriers through nefarious means raises questions that cut to the very heart of our notions of public schooling. Aren’t public schools supposed to take all comers? Aren’t they supposed to be working to limit inequality, not exacerbate it? What would Horace Mann, father of “Common Schools,” say?

…Enrollment fraud is an example of where the reality of public schooling conflicts with the rhetoric of public schooling. No, great public schools aren’t always open to all comers. Public schools can, and do, act to exacerbate inequality. School choice is not something that only occurs when a state allows for charter schools or starts a voucher program…

In fact, the debate around school choice in this country would vastly improve if all of us were simply more honest about the de facto school choice programs that already exist in our communities. Rather than acting like a state “gets” school choice the day that a charter school law is passed, we would recognize that many Americans, from suburbanites to posh urbanites ensconced in exclusive attendance zone enclaves, exercise school choice. The fact that people want to choose a school increases the value of homes within its attendance zone. That premium keeps poor children out of that school. It functions like tuition, making a public school a private one….

Mr. McShane, as a school choice advocate, sees the problem as one of not having enough flexibility in enrollments. He would, presumably, allow the students expelled from Philadelphia Public Schools to choose to attend schools in neighboring districts and perhaps mandate that residents who pay a premium in housing costs and property tax to open the doors of their schools and overcrowd their classrooms with children who live just across the border— or who might commute in on a train, trolley, or bus. His means of addressing Horace Mann’s desire to limit inequality would, presumably, be to ask affluent districts to expand the space inter classroom to make it possible for them to “..take all comers”. 

This idea is preposterous… but it may sadly be as preposterous as raising taxes on those who are affluent so that the funding for all schools and the opportunities for all students can be equitable. The problems Mr. McShane presents have been around for decades… and the solutions involving spending more have been as well. HOW to spend more is the issue. WHETHER to spend more is not. The sooner the public realizes that reality the better off our children will be.

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