I was a public school teacher in Greenville County, have spent time in schools in Charleston County, am currently a teacher educator, and have a wife and children in Dorchester II. One of the most important messages that I can give the voters and parents of Dorchester II is to please not let our schools go down the path of Charleston County, which is a cautionary tale of what school choice can lead to. It is essentially the story of a two-tiered school system and extreme segregation.
If you go to some schools in Charleston County, particularly places like Burke High School/North Charleston High School on one hand or School of the Arts/Academic Magnet on the other, you would think you were going back to 1965. It would be hard to believe that we actually went through the whole fight on segregation. This is not so much due to the district lines being drawn in certain ways, but rather because of school choice, which is often held up as a complete positive without ever acknowledging the downsides school choice has brought. It has allowed students with resources to either go to “better” traditional public schools or to test in or qualify for elite magnet programs like School of the Arts/Academic Magnet. They have even done this at the elementary level in schools like Buist Academy/Memminger.
This process has created a two tiered system-essentially struggling public schools and privatized schools with public funds. It might be very tempting for those in Dorchester II go down a similar path. After all, who doesn’t want the best education for their children? The problem is this sort of arrangement almost always leads to high levels of inequality and segregation. I love seeing my children’s classes at Joseph Pye being extremely diverse and integrated. We already have some limited school choice in Dorchester II with Rollings Middle. This has already created an issue and led us down the first step of a tiered system in our middle grades. We must make sure that this is the extent to which school choice is allowed.
It often sounds great. It’s about giving more opportunities to the most talented students. It’s about allowing students to pursue their own passions. However, what it often really means is allowing those students with the most privilege (who in our area tend to be white students) to get their own unique, superior education and leave a subpar system behind for everyone else.
Unlike Charleston County, we have not seen the large scale school choice whether that is through magnets or charters. Because of that we have had more high quality neighborhood schools, but there is no doubt there will be a push for this over the coming years. That is why it’s vitally important that we elect school board members who truly believe in public, integrated, and equitable education. The far right candidates, such as those sponsored by Moms for Liberty would think nothing of undermining public education and expanding this choice if given the opportunity. It’s important that we elect candidates that stand for public education like Justin Farnsworth, Gail Hughes and Cynthia Powell. All we have to do is look a few miles south of us to Charleston County to see the injustice that happens when school choice takes over. Let’s make sure the same does not happen to DD II.