September 25, 2021

Jeremy Mohler: ‘School choice’ policies are resegregating America’s public schools

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Jeremy Mohler writes at In The Public Interest about how school choice policies are exacerbating America’s segregation problem.

recent article about a middle school in Michigan’s Macomb County closing and going online appears to be yet another story about Covid-era staffing shortages.

But the reporter, Lily Altavena, added an illuminating angle on Twitter: “Many of the students who [have] left [are] white. They fled to neighboring, wealthier, whiter districts, like Lakeview in St. Clair Shores.”

Altvena pointed to reporting from 2016 about increasing segregation in Michigan’s public schools: “As African Americans moved north from Detroit into southern Macomb, thousands of white students used school choice to attend class elsewhere, in districts whiter than the ones they left.”

Key words: “school choice.” The middle school’s staffing shortage isn’t just about the pandemic. It’s also about students—particularly white students—fleeing underfunded, under-resourced (and increasingly understaffed) public schools.

This makes it part of a larger trend playing out in other school districts. In June, the Network for Public Education’s Carol Burris wrote in the Washington Post about how North Carolina’s privately managed charter schools—a key “school choice” policy—are used to resist integration.

Burris quotes University of Colorado Boulder professor Kevin Welner and doctoral candidate Wagma Mommandi in their new book on the dangers of “school choice”: “In the hands of unscrupulous operators, charter schools can become a devastating tool for exclusion and segregation.”

She also calls on the Biden administration to stop funding North Carolina’s segregated charter schools—which she calls “white-flight academies”—through the federal Charter Schools Program.

“It is easy to blame [billionaire and former Trump Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos for giving a $26.6 million grant to a state whose charter sector has come under repeated fire for increasing segregation in an already segregated school system,” Burris writes. “Now the Biden administration and Secretary Miguel Cardona own the grant.”

All of this is to say that so-called “school choice” policies—charter schools, private school vouchers, “student-centered budgeting”—introduce incentives into public education that cut against our society’s values of equality, diversity, and togetherness.

They undermine the mission of public education to prepare us for democratic citizenship. Worst of all, they pit students against other students in a competition with winners and losers.

Read the full piece here.

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