School choice, for me, was about empowering underserved families to have the same range of quality options that well off parents had, without having to buy a house in the Hills. Montessori, dual language, arts, technology-infusion, even military school, these were the options that families craved and we helped develop. Choice is empowerment.
But there’s another side that many of us have known about for a while but has recently gotten more press in the recent NY Times article, At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’. That often, it’s not families choosing schools, but schools choosing families. And don’t get it twisted, this is not limited to charter schools.
Look no further than the selective admission district schools, gifted and talented programs, and the way that residential segregation and neighborhood based enrollment all reinforce existing privileges and squeeze out the underserved. And at charters we got referrals from district schools, and typically those were the students with big thick files.
That’s not to say it’s OK in any case, or that we should not do better, but if we are honest, the lofty rhetoric of schools being equalizers is a crock, and bears no resemblance to a street level view and the vast disparities one sees on the ground when they go from West Oakland to Piedmont.
And it has always been this way for the underdogs, in the worst schools, separate and unequal. Despite the proclamation of a far removed court.
So a school pushed out some high needs students. This is happening every day in every City in subtle and not so subtle ways, most of them completely legal and institutionalized.
So it’s worth spilling some ink, for Success Academy’s “got to go” list, but the main reason it is news is because someone was green enough to write up the list that so many just keep in their heads.
And the real news should be the rules that limit access to the best programs and schools (in general) to the more privileged, and a system that tends to reinforce and magnify existing privilege and disadvantage rather than recognize or ameliorate it. We call that system; public education.