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Across the country there was a tour going on named “The School Choice Tour” that’s been hitting cities in the United States touting how important it is for parents to have school choice for their children. I imagine their tour stops are full of parents and students who get up and speak about how their child/family has been disenfranchised by the local public school and why having a choice in the school they attended has made them a better student. Of course during these tour stops there are community leaders such as Marvin Sapp to drive home the point that school choice is good and public schools are bad. I imagine the multitude of people applaud and shake their heads when they hear about the perceived “injustices” occurring in these “bad” public schools and soon after attending this rallies, these families clamor to sign their children up for the charter school that will surely transform their child’s education.
The problem is that I don’t buy what the people from the School Choice Network are selling. Of course it sounds great that parents have the ability to choose their child’s school, but to me as a parent school choice destroys communities one school at a time. According to the School Choice website, their goal is to “demonstrate overwhelming support, and demand, for educational opportunity, while shining a positive spotlight on the hundreds of organizations, thousands of schools, and millions of Americans working every day to increase access to great educational environments in our country.”
Sounds pretty awesome, right? As a parent I might believe what they say if I hadn’t had the awesome opportunity to work in public schools for the past 13 years of my life. As I often speak to parents who want to attend these “rallies” (that’s what they essentially are) I always ask them what happens to the neighborhood when the public it aims to serve abandons them? What happens to the students “left” in the neighborhood school? What happens to improving our schools and not tearing them down? Clueless most parents don’t have the answers they simply see what they doing as helping their child—not the community.
The stark reality is that in many public schools in underserved neighborhoods are seriously cracking under the loss of support and pressure of high stakes testings. There’s pressure to
- perform academically despite a large number of those children entering school years behind their peers.
- be proficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) despite their barely being enough books for student’s to take home.
- increase parent engagement despite many of the children living with caretakers who are many times too overwhelmed with just trying to make “ends meet”.
- expose their students to standardized testing as early as Kindergarten – a time when research has show that students learn through play and then punish them when they don’t perform like a second grader.
All of the above are all things that cause the perfectly good bones of a school to ultimately “fall apart” at the seams. In addition to the support being virtually non existent, there’s a literal shuffle of administrators and teachers as the district scrambles to improve the school our turn the school over to (most times) to being state controlled. They are then ultimately endure a “hostile takeover” by school management systems that run schools with a business model basically driving home the notion that students no matter how harsh their situation is, there’s no excuses. Before long neighborhood schools are virtually non existent and so are our communities.
So what’s the solution? Is it as simple as finding younger teachers and administrators? Of course not, it’s a myriad of school reforms that will take everyone involved to actually put into action their neighborhood schools.
Instead of the money spent to convince the public that school choice is a great thing I’d love to see a national tour called the “Reclaiming Our Public Schools” Bus Tour. I’d love to see community leaders, school/district/federal officials, parents and other stakeholders to actually come into the neighborhood schools and see the good that’s actually happening in the school. Celebrate those kids and their strides in becoming global citizens. Then sit and ask the experts in the buildings, teachers and administrators , what immediate resources they need to help their students achieve. If people actually asked what was needed they would be surprised that the solutions could be simple as more classroom space, a better playground, mentors or a community garden.
Don’t believe me? Watch this. In one school I worked at we had a significant amount of students who came to our school due to the earthquake in Haiti. Many of these students were not only emotionally scarred from losing family members, but many had not been in a regular school while in Haiti due to them having to work for their families. Instead of adequately remediated their learning gaps, they were placed in 9th grade and given one period a day with the ESOL teacher (who by the way had 3 other schools to service). Despite knowing this, the students were made to take the state’s end of course test. Now where is the logic in that? State and district leaders could have easily requested a waiver to give these students more time before they were required to not only learn a new language, but to also take a standardized test in a foreign language.
If you think the instances above are far fetched think about this. I have friends who work in schools areas so impoverished that it’s a common occurrence for students not only to come to school hungry, but to be currently living in homeless shelters. Of course these students can’t even begin to learn until their emotional needs are met. At this particular school within one school year the school counselor and social worker (who usually took the lead in helping these students out with clothing, housing, etc.) both had their positions cut and were made to service three other schools a week. So they went from being full time at the school to only being able to go to the school once a week at best. While there are schools in more affluent areas who were able to pool together resources to keep both positions.
How can this be an equal education for all?
The point is that allowing school choice (and effectively closing neighborhood schools) dismantles neighborhood schools that are the soul of our communities. Instead of thinking of ways to show their alleged incompetence, public schools need to be supported in bringing solutions into our schools that we so desperately need. If every person that attends an event a school choice event could volunteer one hour to their local public school the change would be immediate and so powerful for teachers and parents alike.
So in the meantime I’ll continue to wish for my bus tour and keep watching as the “powers to be” dismantle public education and know that school choice is not for me and my family and neither should you. .