Monday, December 12, 2011

Cindy Black on how "choice" leads to more segregated schools

Much controversy has been aroused and much ink has been expended about the way in which Eva Moskowitz is now defying the original stated purpose of charter schools, and marketing her chain of Success Academies to white middle class families in Brooklyn and on the Upper West Side.  Her glossy flyers, sent to households by the truckload, with many families having already received five or six, increasingly feature the faces of little white children. There has also been much debate about the problems of NYC's demanding school "choice" process -- but not much said about how school choice may further segregate  our public schools, especially in many areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, where the last ten years or more of gradual gentrification have led to more diversity in neighborhood schools.  While the UCLA Civil Rights project has shown how charter schools contributes to more segregation nationwide, here are the observations of one Brooklyn parent who is also a high school teacher, Cindy Black, about what happened when a new elementary school of "choice" -- though not a charter -- opened up  in her community:

From what I've seen, "choice" segregates schools. People are just attracted to communities that feel familiar. It is frustrating.

This is at the elementary level, but when a "school of choice" opened in our district this year, virtually every white student in my daughter's grade left to go to that school, which billed itself as a progressive alternative to zoned schools. Now Brooklyn New School might open a new school in district 13, which will definitely impede the integration of local zoned schools which have already lost many white, biracial, and affluent families to BNS.

I'm fond of progressive pedagogy, but I'm not comfortable with a scenario where one demographic consistently chooses one extreme while another demographic chooses the other extreme. "Teaching to the middle" is now synonymous with bad teaching, but I actually think that if we are to have truly integrated schools, parents are going to have to compromise. I might like to see my child in the least constrictive environment, but another parent sees that as chaotic and distracting and wants their child to learn discipline. "Choice" allows each parent to write the other off, and ensures that their children won't meet. There is this attitude that every child is different and you have to find the right "fit" for your child, but part of being a citizen is putting aside what is easiest for you in order to think about what will be best for the community as a whole.

I think schools should be integrated. Really integrated. I was reviewing capitalization rules with my high school students recently and discovered that they didn't know that England is a country. I came home and asked my five-year-old and she did know, but only because two kids in her Kindergarten class had traveled to England over winter break. Both of those kids transferred to the new, progressive, "school of choice." Most of my students never went to school with kids who travel overseas for winter break. And obviously it isn't just my students who suffer. The kids who travel overseas, they're missing out too. Everybody loses, I think, when our search for the "right fit" allows us to opt out of sending our children to school with children whose experiences have been very different from their own.

  -- Cindy Black

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