Sunday LeftoversFebruary 12, 2012
Camden Flunks QSACFebruary 13, 2012
On Friday Alfred Doblin, editorialist for The Record, tried to justify the logic behind NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano’s comments on the radio show N.J. Capitol Report last Sunday. For those of you just tuning in, Giordano was asked about his opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), which would provide corporate-sponsored scholarships to some poor kids in poor cities. From the Star-Ledger: “Commenting about how the poor can’t always attend private and charter schools, Giordano said, ‘Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.’”
It’s a comment up there with Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the very poor”: insensitive, clumsy, and, possibly, unintended. Look, everyone has an off day or says something less than felicitous, especially under the pressure of a radio show. But, interestingly, Doblin takes Giordano at his word – life’s not always fair — and follows the line of reasoning to justify an educational strategy that diminishes choice.
Doblin makes an assumption familiar to both proponents and detractors of school choice: if you reduce resources to impoverished schools, the students left behind suffer even more simply by virtue of having no options other than attending those impoverished schools. Resources in this case can mean money (not a factor in OSA, but certainly one when charter schools spring up) or motivated students with proactive parents.
And the price paid by the remaining students – a less scholarly atmosphere, perhaps, or less parent involvement, or reduction in total resources – is too high to justify the benefit to the students removed from the traditional public school.
The minority interest – in this case the student with an alternative educational setting or the parents who are facilitating the exit from traditional failing schools – is less compelling than the majority interest – those students who remain. We sacrifice the few to (possibly – there’s no data on this) preserve the mediocre circumstances of the many.
Taking public money out of the public schools has a negative affect (sic) on the students left in those schools. In many cases, the children of uninvolved parents or guardians are the children who struggle most in failing schools. These kids don’t have an advocate to put them into lotteries for charter schools and their parents don’t have the wherewithal to get them into private schools.
Yet when I have asked supporter after supporter of charter schools what happens to the children left in the failing ones, the response is always something like this: We can only help so many. Isn’t it better that some kids are getting a better education?
What is so different about “life’s not always fair” and that? It’s perhaps nuanced better, but the bottom line is that all these so-called school reform plans pull money out of public schools, leaving less money for the students left inside them. And that is not fair.
Doblin makes no effort to elucidate any redeeming qualities to continued attendance in traditional public schools in cities like Camden or Newark or Trenton. He restricts his argument to the impact of the remaining kids who don’t escape through either OSA or an available slot in a charter or one of the few seats in NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. The needs of the many – those who don’t get out – outweigh the needs of the few — those who might get out but must sacrifice their potential success to preserve the status quo.
Let’s think about this argument outside the educational arena – let say, housing. What if there was a program that provided nice clean apartments to poor people but left those without access in slums. Would Doblin argue that everyone should remain in slums because taking out some people has a “negative” effect on residents left behind there? What about health care? What if there was a program that provided quality medical resources for young poor pregnant teens. But the program doesn’t serve everyone – just those who have an advocate or an “involved” guardian to help them apply. Should we shut down the program because only some babies would healthier?
Doblin’s argument – which may or may not be Giordano’s – is a deterministic argument you make about other people’s children, never about your own. After all, New Jersey parents of public school students exercise choice all the time, as long as they have the money to either move to a better district or pay tuition to parochial or private schools. Life’s fair to them. It’s the kids stuck in districts targeted by OSA (and, increasingly, charter schools) who must endure the slings and arrows of an unfair public school system, opportunities be damned.