OCALA, Fla., August 8, 2013 — The concept of “school choice” has become a favored cause of social conservatives. The theory is that if parents can take their children out of badly performing schools and send them to better ones, with the school funding going with them, then they will do better in school and the lion’s share of American educational problems will be solved.
More acute observers ought to question both of those outcomes.
School choice will not turn America’s schools into Finland’s and vault American students to the top of the world’s achievement charts. It is impossible for mainly troubled youths in dangerous, let alone underperforming, schools to magically become star pupils once they are placed in a better environment.
What is likely to happen is that these youths will drag gifted and well-directed students into a spiral of chaos and destruction. The problems that plague bad schools, most of them located in impoverished urban environments, will simply be exported to safer city neighborhoods or suburbia.
This is because the core problem with failing schools is not the teachers, or even their unions, as many allege. It is not the buildings or the athletic courts or inadequate funding. It is the student body.
“I have taught in the Baltimore public school system for the past two decades. What we need is better students,” said Dave Miceli, a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher, in a recent letter to the Sun’s editorial staff.
“I cannot count the number of students who have physically destroyed property in the schools,” he later wrote. “They have trashed brand new computers, destroyed exit signs, set multiple fires, destroyed many, many lockers, stolen teachers’ school supplies, written their filth on the tops of classroom desks, defecated in bathrooms and stairwells, assaulted teachers (beyond constantly telling them to perform certain impossible acts upon themselves) and refused to do any homework or classwork. Need I go any further?”
Not at all.
Does anybody honestly think that if droves of BCPS students were transferred to successful public schools, or virtually any private ones, in, say, Towson, that their situation would improve? Would these youths become college-bound academics in short order just because their environment has changed?
They would not. What they would probably do, though, is recreate their former environment almost immediately. This would be disastrous for their new classmates.
Parents pay astronomical sums to private schools so that their children can be formally educated in a safe, sound setting. Contrary to stereotypes, many private school parents are anything but wealthy. They nickel and dime to the hilt so that their kids might have a better life.
This better life does not leave room for the students which Miceli described.
Importing trouble to areas which have none is not only begging, but pleading for disaster. Using school vouchers so that dangerous, self-destructive youths can corrupt the well-being of more productive kids ought to be considered nothing less than child abuse.
This is why starry-eyed center-rightists need to stop dreaming and start thinking. Then, and only then, can the awful truth about school vouchers, often marketed as “school choice,” be considered.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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