Saturday, February 22, 2014

The real agenda of school choice opponents: protecting privilege

Perhaps Steve Nelson should have heeded his feelings of “caution and ambivalence” before submitting his jeremiad against school choice (“Real Agenda of School-Choice Advocates,” Valley News [West Lebanon, N.H.], January 5). It is difficult to imagine a more awkward and inappropriate source of such a lamentation than the head of an expensive private school in Manhattan [The Calhoun School].

Nelson is rightly concerned about quality, but erroneously states, “The one comprehensive study done to date shows that charters on balance do slightly worse than the public schools they replaced.” Assuming that he is referring to the “National Charter School Study” by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), the 2013 report actually states that “charter schools now advance the learning gains of their students more than traditional public schools in reading[, and] academic growth of charter students in math [...] is now comparable to the learning gains in traditional public schools.” CREDO also separately studied Louisiana, which Nelson singled out for condemnation: “The charter school sector in Louisiana has a trend of strong results.”

Obviously, not all private or charter schools are commendable, voucher systems are far from ideal, and profiteers exploiting a real need are rightly decried. But students who are failed by their public school don’t have time to wait for improvements. They need those alternatives now. It certainly doesn’t help to accuse their parents of tearing apart “the connective tissue of our nation” for trying to do what’s best for their children.

Since Nelson defended his own alternative school as decidedly not rending “America’s social fabric,” he would have done better to suggest more progressive ways to expand such options for others. As noted by Ginia Bellafante in the same day’s New York Times, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s newly appointed Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has high praise for a network of charter schools serving the poorest neighborhoods of Brooklyn. And the cover story of the Valley News featured the Ledyard Charter School, which impressively meets the needs of many area students for an alternative to the regular high schools. Not only the schools and students, but society as a whole would clearly benefit from more support for such alternatives.

A progressive approach to education requires choice for all, not just the rich.

human rights, Vermont