(The second piece in a two-part series. See Part I)
Nearly sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, Black and Brown students are more segregated than they’ve been in generations. Fewer than six out of ten of all African American and Latino high school students complete high school. Graduation rates for students that attend school in high poverty districts lag 15-to-18% behind their peers. The achievement gap aversely impacts not only poor children in failing schools, but most children, in most schools. According to McKinsey & Company this harms our economic wellbeing as a whole. Stated more bluntly, the achievement gap imposes the equivalent of a permanent national recession.
Everyone is frustrated: Parents. Teachers. Principals. Everyone.
As RiShawn Biddle recently writes in Dropout Nation:
No family should have to be shackled to dropout factories, failure mills, and warehouses of mediocrity. They should have the ability to escape those failure factories and attend any high quality school available to them… Meanwhile this unwillingness to overhaul school financing perpetuates one of the tenets of the Poverty Myth of Education held so deeply by so many education traditionalists: That poor and minorities don’t share the same interest in providing their children with a high quality education as they do, and won’t do whatever it takes to help their kids succeed… Some 420,000 children are waiting for seats in the nation’s charter schools, the nation’s most-prominent form of choice; minorities make up 30 percent of enrollment in the nation’s dwindling collection of Catholic diocesan schools… It is high time to end Zip Code Education that wrongly criminalizes the fight to provide every child what they deserve.
Don’t get me wrong: turning school systems into competitive marketplaces won’t automatically lead to the day all children are extended the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
School choice voucher programs are no panacea. Their universal introduction without additional systemic reforms would merely make the Pre K-12 landscape mirror the current state of higher education. The widespread availability of financial aid (grants, scholarships, student loans, and public/private funding sources) hasn’t improved outcomes for students of color. Only four out of every ten African Americans, and one out of every two Latinos who enroll in college complete a bachelor’s degree in six years or less.
Nevertheless, it’s time to imagine a world without enrollment boundaries.
While highly in-demand, schools would need to hold admission lotteries, and a number of neighborhood parents would get turned away (leading to lawsuits and political backlash). The stress level of school bus schedulers would rival that of air traffic controllers. And thousands of additional cars would crowd already congested roads, as those with the means to do so engage in daily commutes to and from their chosen schools.
We might very well be forced to deal with educational inequity head on.
After all, we already live in the age of the Parent Trigger, Teachers for a New Unionism, Teaching 2030, Educators4Excellence, Promise Neighborhoods, KIPP, and other nationally ranked public charters, the Reed, et al. v. State of California settlement, as well as verdicts designed to protect the rights of English language learners, special education and undocumented students, and so on and so forth.
Isn’t the introduction of open enrollment in this setting more likely to successfully address inequity than it would be in a world without these players and circumstances?
To quote the L.A. Times:
If students had endless options for attending school, racial imbalances in enrollment would begin to even out… So would private donations; it’s unlikely that one school would be awash in parent-funded enrichment programs while another couldn’t afford a computer… Teachers who in the past might have fled inner-city schools for the suburbs would have less reason to transfer. Parents who wouldn’t dream of sending their children to a rundown school… might be forced to admit that it’s no more acceptable for other children to have to attend that school. The classic response to complaints about educational inequities has been that the district has to work harder on providing top-quality neighborhood schools for low-income students. That theory, nice as it sounds, has been as fraught with practical barriers.
91% of Latino parents and 86% of African-American parents say it is “quite” or “extremely” important for their children to attend and graduate from college. African American and Latino parents know public education is underfunded, and believe budget cuts will further diminish educational opportunity and quality. Yet, parents of color feel removed from the debates politicians, philanthropists, pundits, and public figures are engaged in over standardized testing, per-pupil funding, value-added educator evaluations, common core curriculums, and charter schools.
Students are suffering.
Students are not only being condemned to life sentences of educational inequity, their caregivers are being sentenced to jail and/or parole for trying to break them out of underperforming schools. Students face the disadvantage of not being prepared for college and career, and learn unequivocally that any attempt to challenge the status quo, and the power structure it represents, will result in police arrest and court action.
If, as President Obama has argued, the best possible education is not only the key to opportunity, but also the civil rights issue of our time …
Then, tomorrow is today, and with the fierce urgency of now, we must march ahead.