In the old days employers asked employees to keep job description manuals, so new employees and others in the office or shop could better understand how a task was performed or how a widget was made. Today employers focus on diversity and social justice manuals. Should this shift of emphasis from production and performance to personnel be included in statistics measuring GDP, national debt as percentage of GDP, balance of trade, decline of manufacturing, rise of an unskilled workforce, automation? Has the constant talk of diversity integrated our schools, or equalized pay, or flooded Silicon Valley with high-level coders of both genders equally?
If the response is “not really” then our doubling down on the diversity reasoning is innocently stupid, immensely hopeful, or intentionally evil. The quest for diversity permeates housing, employment and education. Although there is much to say on housing and employment, let’s start with this article on education, specifically school choice in New York City.
Should There Be a Debate On School Choice?
A new study entitled The Paradox of Choice: How School Choice Divides New York City Elementary Schools laments the “unintended consequences” of providing New York City parents with the choice of enrolling their kids in other than their zoned (neighborhood) schools.
Our analysis shows that the expansion of school choice in New York City in the past 10
years has, indeed, allowed thousands of children to leave low-performing schools for higher-performing schools, often outside their neighborhoods. But it has also resulted in higher concentrations of poverty and shrinking enrollments and budgets in the schools they leave behind, making it ever harder for those schools to serve their neighborhoods well.
The logic of choice can be used for segregation or integration. But in either case, it puts the onus on individual parents to find good schools for their children, rather than on society as a whole to provide for the education of all children. Correcting the disparities across the school system as a whole and providing equitable educational opportunity to all families should be a collective effort by all members of the community with strong central leadership from City Hall and the Department of Education.
A reasonable person should ask what is wrong with parents taking responsibility for finding good schools for their children. The legion of lower-income parents enrolling their kids in charter schools might wonder why any parent would not move their children out of poor-performing schools. True, newly arrived immigrants, speaking little or no English, would have a harder time navigating through the complex school-enrollment system; but hopefully these families anticipate such difficulties, persist, and eventually prevail.
Embedded in the lament for the consequences of school choice is the pervasive emphasis on diversity and government’s duty to ensure equity and social justice. Such focus obscures the success of parents and children who opt for production – performance, individual responsibility, effort, and hard work. There are such parents at all income levels and of all colors.
Who Leaves and Who Stays
The Paradox of School Choice discusses what families stay in their zoned school, and which do not. 60% of families in gentrifying neighborhoods choose kindergarten outside of their school zones, compared with 32% in higher-income neighborhoods (where schools tend to be higher-performing), and 35% in non-gentrifying poorer neighborhoods. Although 60% is significant, 35% of poorer families that, in spite of economic challenges, choose higher-performing schools outside their neighborhoods is impressive.
The study also offers a chart that further illustrates who left their zoned schools behind, and who stayed between 2007 and 2016. Colors from bottom represent children who attended schools that were: in their zone, in a different zone, had gifted children programs, had dual-language programs, were unzoned, were charter.
The ideal situation would indeed be a system that did not exhibit disparities in quality between schools. However, significant disparities are an unfortunate reality that school officials have not corrected. Therefore a growing number of parents are no longer waiting for someone to act on their children’s behalf, but are taking action themselves. Their choices indicate what is important to them: high-performing schools that exhibit good test scores.