Political Physics: Rich People Have School Choice Why Shouldn’t Poor People Have it Too?

When my brother was in the fourth grade his teacher told my mother that he had some type of learning disability and that she needed to think about putting him in a “special class.”  My mother was outraged!  It was not my brother’s fault that he had a learning disability, right?  And the school should be able to accommodate him, right?  Wrong.  So that is when we moved to a neighboring suburb, which has a program in the local elementary school that put a name to my brother’s disability – Attention Deficit Disorder – and put him in a program where he was able to flourish academically.  But we were poor and moving to Ewing was expensive.  So in order to be able to pay the rent for a small, ranch house, my mother, stepfather, grandmother, grandfather, brother and I all moved in together.  It was crowded (the dining room was converted into a bedroom for my grandparents), but everyone agreed to make it work so that my brother could get the education that he deserved.


Fast-forward almost ten years later.  My brother was about to start his senior year of high school.  Both my grandfather and stepfather lost their jobs and my family had to move back to the city.  But my mother was adamant that my brother would graduate from the high school where he was now taking mainstream classes and thriving academically.  So she talked to my brother’s best friend’s mom and she allowed my brother to use her address so that he could finish his senior year at the suburban high school.

My mother made the same choice that Kelley Williams-Bolar made.  However, unlike Williams-Bolar my mother was not caught and forced to serve nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records.

Williams-Bolar illegally registered her two daughters in suburban Copley Township to get them into the Copley-Fairlawn school district rather than the urban Akron district.  Why?  Well just look at the numbers.  According to CNN.Com, “the Akron City school district met only four of 26 standards on the latest Ohio Department of Education Report Card and had a 76% graduation rate. Copley-Fairlawn City Schools met 26 of 26 standards and had a 97.5% graduation rate.”

Duh!  And let’s be clear – I don’t have firm statistics on this – but I know that my mother and Williams-Bolar are not alone.  Particularly when you look at families in disenfranchised urban communities where poverty is running rampant and schools are consistently underperforming.  Dan Domenech of the American Association of School Administrators was interviewed on NPR recently and he noted that, “The correlation between student achievement and zip code is one hundred percent. The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live.”  And as Kevin Huffman states recently in The Washington Post, “where you live in America today depends largely on income and race.”

Moms are debating whether taking illegal actions is justified for the sake of their children.  Republicans are calling for education reform that focuses on “school choice.”  And Democrats are calling for education reform that focuses on taking the issue out of local hands and making education reform a federal issue.  Williams-Bolar is being referred to as the “Rosa Parks” of educational reform.  But while everyone is debating and politicking, American children, particularly children of color and poor children are losing.

In his article entitled, “A Rosa Parks moment for education,” Huffman notes that in recent testing of 15-year-olds worldwide found that Americans were “31st out of 65 countries in math, with scores below the international average). Even worse, our results are profoundly segregated by race. White and Asian Americans are still in the upper echelon. But African American and Latino students lag near the bottom quartile of world standards. As we think about our game plan to ‘win the future,’ our black and Latino students won’t be competing with China and Finland – they’re on track to scrap it out with Bulgaria and Mexico.”

Here’s the thing; I do not know a thing about education reform.  I want the big brained education “muckidy mucks” to figure this out and fix it.  But as a parent of a child who will be entering school in less than three years, I do not have time to wait for educational reform.  I want choices for my child now.  And in fact, I am lucky enough to have choices.  See I am an African American, married, middle class mother of two.  So even though the house I own and pay taxes on is in an underperforming school district (how ironic that it is the very one my mother worked so hard to get us out of years ago) I can afford to scrape together the money to send my child to a private school.  See the truth – that neither Republicans nor Democrats want to focus on – is that school choice already exists in this country if you have money.

But what if you don’t?  What if you were my brother nearly twenty years ago?  Or Williams-Bolar today?  Or one of the countless numbers of mothers and fathers who are just thankful that they have not gotten caught cheating the system? Or the children who are suffering in underperforming schools because they live in the wrong zip code?

I think we owe it to those children to give them options right now, while the scholars are working on overhauling our education system.  Yes, I said it.  I believe in school choice, particularly for the parents of children in underperforming school districts.  I am not sure whether that means charters, magnets, tuition reimbursement, vouchers, etc.  I just know that I want options for my child and for all other children.  And I want it now!

Before he graduates from college and the political folks are still trying to figure this whole thing out.

featured image credit: carlos.a.martinez