Last Monday, the State Newspaper ran an article entitled “Racial disparity follows schools,” with the subtitle “Kershaw County facing unanticipated consequences of school choice.”
Reporter Joy Woodson wrote that in Camden a lack of specific public elementary school attendance zones has resulted in “racial imbalances and some perceived inequities.” She went on to posit that because parents were able to choose which school their children attend, existing racial and funding differences had been magnified. She sees these shortcomings as indicative of the failure of “School Choice.” While enrollment data from the State Department of Education do indicate disparities, the culprit is a Jim Rex style public transfer program, not real School Choice.
Woodson made three major errors in her analysis:
1. Public school transfer is NOT real School Choice. She mistakenly uses the terms interchangeably.
2. Nationwide real choice schools are actually MORE racially integrated than public schools. She wrongly suggests that segregation is inevitable when parents have choices.
3. Arguing categorically against parental choice is anti-democratic. She suggests that parents don’t know their own best interests (but luckily she does).
Real School Choice means the ability of parents to freely select from the full range of educational options for their children. These include private schools, charter schools, home schooling and traditional neighborhood public schools. The wide range of options fosters innovation and holds administrators accountable to parents who can easily move their children to better performing classrooms elsewhere.
Public transfer (0r “open enrollment” in the case of Kershaw) is merely a narrow selection between a small number of underperforming public schools. In Kershaw, two of the three schools that Woodson mentions failed to meet federally defined Adequate Yearly Progress in 2007. There is no way that the one “adequate” school has the capacity to accept all the incoming transfers from the other two schools.
While Woodson worries that parents are self-segregating in Camden, analysis of the US Department of Education’s Education Longitudinal Study indicate that private school students report higher levels of racial integration than public ones (as measured by personal friendships and interaction across racial lines). Unlike the Kershaw public transfer program, students are not merely shuffled around in a closed system. Friedman Foundation researcher Greg Forester, PhD has also found that:
“The existing empirical research indicates that segregation levels in private schools are not substantially different from those in public schools when examined at the school level; that private schools are actually less segregated than public schools when examined at the classroom level; and that private schools participating in voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington D.C. are much less segregated than public schools.”
More disturbing than Woodson’s failure to differentiate between “transfer” and “choice” and her lack of empirical context about integration and choice, is the fundamentally anti-democratic tone of her argument.
By insisting that, given the opportunity to choose among schools, individual parents will make choices that are against their collective best interest, Woodson is suggesting that she knows what is best for parents. This condescending command-and-control mentality is precisely the reason that South Carolina public schools have the nation’s lowest on-time graduation rate and second lowest SAT scores. Top down bureaucratic administration, even when acting in the name of social progressivism, is the problem, not the solution.
Contact Joy Woodson and let the reporters and editorialists at The State Newspaper know that real education reform means Choice for parents and requires honesty in journalism.