The following represents my perceptions of school choice after attending a school choice fair in New Haven. I try to come from the perspective of a parent and offer a critique of a system of school choice.
After attending a school choice fair in New Haven, I soon realized that school choice was not as great as it seems. In fact, the issues surrounding school choice are multifaceted and complicated to say the least. It’s fair to say that most parents want the education system to be equal for all, and most parents want their children to succeed. However, with this system of school choice, these two statements are often rivals: one’s student’s success is another student’s loss. On top of that, the losing student tends to be already disadvantaged. Furthermore, this system of school choice does not pose a solution to the systemic issues in school. Instead, it moves the burden of school improvement away from the school system. Thus, if I were a parent, I would do all that I could to avoid participating in this “school choice” system. I would send my child to the nearest “neighborhood” school, and I would do everything in my power to improve the school system rather than focusing on an individual school.
One of the main issues with school choice is that it moves the burden of improving schools from the school system to children and their parents. There are systemic issues within schooling that cause schools to fail, i.e. classism, racism, tracking, etc. However, with school choice, the burden of improving the school falls on parents, as it is their duty to “choose” a “good” school or the “right” school. If a student goes to a school and is unsuccessful, it’s now the student and parent’s fault for not choosing a good enough school, and it avoids the issue that schools should not be failing students; the issue is not that students are failing schools.
A system of school choice leads parents to pursue better schools and creates a value system amongst schools with some labeled as “good” and others as “failing.” These top schools ultimately recruit the more privileged students because “school choice” is hardly a “choice.” In New Haven, parents are expected to participate in a highly confusing and complicated lottery system that advantages the most privileged. Parents that know less about the education system are at a disadvantage, because they do not know of the resources and opportunities that are available at the schools. Furthermore, “choice” assumes that parents have the resources (time, car, etc.) to ensure that their children are able to attend the best school, and it ignores the societal factors (such as class) that may prevent a child from attending these schools. Thus, parents that have greater access to resources are more likely to apply to the best schools, creating schools filled with more privileged students. As a result, it’s likely that these students within these “better schools” will have a higher performance level regardless of the setting, skewing any data that deems these schools better.
This value system across schools exists within schools as well. Students are led to not only compete for school choice, but they also compete for grades. If an underprivileged student is fortunate enough to attend a “better” school due to luck from a lottery, they risk failing at the expense of more privileged students. The advantaged students come from more resources and will likely perform better leading to positive reinforcement. On the flip side, less privileged students will internalize the opposite, and their lack of resources will represent a lack of “effort.” This shifts the burden of improvement onto underprivileged students. In reality, they’re the students blamed for not trying hard enough or for being “dumb;” they’re blamed for why the schools fail. Again, schools fail due to the system, not students.
Unfortunately, even though the school system is failing students, this competition to have the better students and to be desired by students leads school officials to focus more on marketing the school than teaching. At the school choice fair in New Haven, one recruit from a neighborhood school remarked that the fair was just another method of “recruiting” students, and he expressed that most of the recruits were more invested in making money and increasing funding than the children they’re marketing to.
There’s no proof that sending my child to another school will lead to their success. There’s no guarantee that I will get the school that I want. This process forces schools to compete for children and forces me to compete with my neighbors. It places burdens on parents and children to fix an already broken education system, and it promotes a marketing of school that distracts from children’s education. I want nothing to do with it and I want it removed. If parents, instead, chose to send their students to neighborhood schools, it would give incentive to the school system to repair “failing” schools as opposed to running from the problems.