The school choice process in Hartford, CT is very opaque and overtly complicated. As a college student pretending to be a Hartford parent, it was hard to find a good school for my pretend son to attend. I can imagine how much more complicated it must be for parents who works long hours and is constantly dealing with financial and emotional strain? Many scholars herald increased School choice as the solution to the achievement between low-income and high-income students (Hoxby, 2003). From what I have read and observed, school choice puts a bigger strain on communities already at an extreme disadvantage. Affluent families know which schools are good and can always “opt out” and take their children to a private school worst comes to worst. In contrast, neighborhoods with large numbers of college deprived, resource absent individuals end up losing their best students to these high preforming schools. The chances their schools will lose funding increases because of high stakes testing. The problem with the current educational model is concerted cultivation; namely the inequality that is formed at birth between children whose parents work minimum wage, blue collar jobs and those who have white-collar jobs and a college degree. It is not that the schools are bad. The issue is that schools are not given enough resources to help children catch up to their peers who begin learning at an earlier age. I believe that given enough resources and time, community schools can succeed and provide any student with the ability to succeed.
About two weeks ago I attended a community panel in the North end of Hartford with my Wesleyan Sociology professor and two classmates. Panelists expressed contempt towards policies that allowed students to be bused to schools outside of Hartford. They believed schools in the community could improve if resources were allocated properly to these institutions. According to one of the panelists and Secretary to the Hartford Board of Education, Chris Stallings, at least 20 million dollars have been spent busing students to schools outside of Hartford. He went on, saying he believed public schools could become an anchor for the community and the nucleus of change if given the time and adequate resources. Privatizing schooling makes it harder for schools to evolve and eventually become the center of change in these communities. High stakes testing means that punitive federal policies punish schools that serve the lowest preforming students and strip them of much needed funding. Mr. Stallings was angry about the decrease of resources and opportunity occurring within his North Hartford district because of the increase in school choice. This system makes it harder for parents with a low educational background even harder to navigate the ever-growing educational landscape of school choice. We are essentially decreasing opportunity for those most disadvantaged in our society by punishing their schools and not addressing the main cause of the current inequality.
I grew up in a community without many good schooling options. I learned that it is not the school but the attitudes and the preparation the student receives at home and brings to the classroom. Schools must be able to provide students from positions of disadvantage smaller classes, more extracurricular, and more out of class support than their white-collar peers. Chris Stallings’ comments about the role community schools should play within these deprived communities echoes Diane Ravitch’s (2010) vision of schools,
“Only by eliminating opportunity gaps can we eliminate achievement gaps. Poor and immigrant children need the same sorts of schools wealthy children have, only more so. Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller classes, even more art, science, and music to engage them, to spark their creativity, and to fulfill their potential” (Reign of Terror, Diane Ravitch)
Schools must be the great social equalizer giving the deprived masses that which they are missing to be able to complete with their middle class and upper class counterparts. School choice attempts to patch holes on a sinking ship that is already on its way to the bottom of the ocean. We must not rebrand the schools but change the very foundations and mission of the schools. We must give our all our schools and children the same ability to succeed.