Why School Choice Is a Big Lie: A Parent’s Perspective – KangWon Cho

It is a common notion that parents want what is best for their kids, and this applies especially in education. Unfortunately, unfair social and economic status in the society make some schools perform significantly better than others. For many communities where both ends of economic spectrum take part of people’s lives, competition for attending  better performing school is fierce. In Hartford today, there is a strange educational system in disguise of giving people a choice. After the Sheff vs. O’Neil case, schools were encouraged to end racial segregation in school districts. To make admission process as fair as possible, government issued in a lottery system. I will be frank in this blog post. I do not think school choice and the lottery system work, and I believe they are a poor instrument in helping kids who are in economically and socially disadvantageous positions to succeed academically. Based on my hypothetical parenting scenario, which I have made my decision based on the observations from the field trip and existing literature on school choice, I reiterate my position that I do not support school choice, and I believe it does not help student’s academic achievement.

In a parental scenario, I am a parent of a high school student and live in North-end of Hartford. I live without a car, and based on the social, economic, and income range that people around me possess, I am probably a working class black parent who is just managing to make the ends meet. As a parent, I want my son/daughter to live more successfully than I do, and I want to do what is best for them. Luckily, Capital Prep Magnet High School is within my zone, and since it falls within walking distance from my house and a pretty impressive school, it is the best choice for my kid. However, I do not have absolute guarantee that my kid will be able to attend that school. Even if the school is around the block and I live in the physical boundaries of district line, if I do not get the school in any of my choice from the lottery, I have no option but send my kid elsewhere. Perhaps, I would have to resort to send my kid to an open-enrollment neighborhood school. However, given the circumstances those schools are in and their struggles, would I want to send my kids there? What good is school choice if I cannot attend a school that I want my kid to attend? Such is the response and feelings let known by the parents in North-end, and I must agree with them. School choice does not work.

It was not a particularly cold morning, and on January 31st, 2015, many parents and adults who were concerned about current educational situation gathered for a community conversation. There were general feelings of frustration and concern of depreciating school quality around the north-end area. One panel member was quick to point out the loss of community atmosphere and culture in schools. From lack of governmental support in already existing struggling schools, parents in the north-end district had to “choose” to send their kids out of their neighborhood. Furthermore, parents were frustrated by the fact that despite the existence of newly built schools in north-end, students residing in the area could not attend those schools because of lottery and enrollment cap. For these parents, inability to attend their choice of school, despite their preference, had far more reaching consequences than just education. Since students opted to choose schools outside of their neighborhood, neighborhood schools could not function as epicenter for children’s development. For a lot of parents, they wanted schools to act as a self-developing opportunity where students can not only spend time outside of studying, but also gain valuable insight to community’s culture. As one of the elders in the panel quoted, “we should invest the 10 million dollars we spend on school buses annually on school investment,” parents of north-end wanted improved neighborhood schools. Having more options on school choice was parents’ last scenario. Judging from their reactions, it did not work.

Several of class readings also indicate that school choice is ineffective and limited. Based on Jack Dougherty’s article, we see how school choice could, in fact, further racial discrimination and unfair schooling environment. To help parents make more informed decision on school choice, Jack Dougherty and his contributors launched a website called SmartChoice which listed demographic, racial, and academic information on schools which participated in school choice. However, Dougherty noted that “we also observed some Black and Latino parents using the tool to avoid schools with high concentrations of students from racial groups other than their own” (Dougherty, 2013). There are two thoughts we can suggest from this reaction. The first is that parents are using tools for racial integration as instruments to separate themselves from other races, an action that completely disagrees with notion of Sheff and O’Neil case. The second is that a tool for helping parents make better choices for their kids is actually making a cycle of disadvantaged students. It is already an apparent fact that well performing schools are attended by white and those that are not performing are attended by minority. If black and latino parents opt to send their kids to schools where majority of the students are minorities, they only contribute to helping unbalanced school system where minority students are unable to gain adequate education, while white students receive ample resources. A short conversation between Mira Debs and several of parents on the bus, in Debs’ paper, show how ineffective school choice is. In the conversation, school representative points out that 50% of the students are of minority origins, yet Hartford students only have 2% chance of attending this prestigious suburban school (Debs, 2015). This suggests that only select number of racial minorities is able to benefit from Sheff and O’Neil case, specifically minorities who are living in suburban areas or those who are of middle and upper middle class. Public education legislature that only favors select group of individuals cannot be said to be efficient or fair.

Situations and circumstances in class readings are not just random stories or happenings that are going on far from where we are. Situations in the readings are real and they are happening in our very neighborhoods today. The north-end parents, who are getting the short end of the stick, are clearly frustrated and upset at how a legislation that is supposed to help them are in fact oppressing them. To choose a good school and have a high chance of rejection from the lottery, and having no choice but to send their kids to open-enrollment neighborhood schools that are struggling, we have our backs put against the wall. As a hypothetical parent who is in the same situation as the north end parents are in, I agree with their position. We do not want school choice. We want investments and necessary steps to make our schools that already exist and are struggling into better schools. We do not need choice, but what we need is a chance to succeed.


Debs, Mira. 2015. “Untouchable Carrots: Marketing School Choice and Realities in Hartford’s Inter District Magnet Program.” Yale University.

Dougherty, Jack.2013. “Investigating Spatial Inequality with the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project.” Epress. http://epress.trincoll.edu/ontheline2015/chapter/investigating-spatial-inequality


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