Recently, I went to a school event with my children at their school, Joseph Pye Elementary School in Dorchester II. What I saw was a picture of a new, multicultural America. I met a Spanish speaking family who had just moved here from Columbia two months ago. There were students and families from a wide range of racial, economic, and social backgrounds. It’s quite a different site than what I have seen in places in Charleston County where the segregation is almost at Jim Crow levels. There are of course a wide range of reasons for this difference, but one of underlying reason that few seem to want to talk about is school choice.
School choice has been the top contributors to resegregation and inequality in schools in our area and nation. It not the solution much less some type of panacea for all educational problems as some politicians like to make it out to be. The history of school choice has deeply racist roots. It was specifically introduced nationally in the 1960s and 70s to stop integration from occurring. In the modern context, it is less blatantly racist; however, it still often creates the same inequality and segregation. One only has to go to North Charleston and see the levels of segregation and inequality between an Academic Magnet/School of the Arts and North Charleston High School to see just how dramatic school choice can be in resegregating schools.
Of course, there are other issues with school choice when it comes to charter schools. I have heard horror stories from students about some of the charter schools in this area that should have been shut down long go but are proudly sponsored by state officials. It seems like they are lauded for the mere fact of being charter schools despite any evidence of superior outcome. Some of these schools have third-party for-profit entities running them, so they are skimming off public funds on top of everything else.
As a social studies educator, one of the things that I’m most concerned about is the growing divide we are experiencing as a nation, whether that is politically, racially, religiously or economically. One of the few places historically, albeit imperfectly, that has actually brought people together from different backgrounds has been the public-school system. It can be the place for rejuvenation in our divided society. School choice jeopardizes that. Unlike what is often said, school choice It is not just a net positive without serious downsides. Until we realize that, we are going be running around in circles in places like Charleston County trying to do a million different tweaks to “fix our system” without addressing the elephant in the room- school choice has largely created a segregated and unequal system.
There is a solution and that is having students go to their neighborhood school, not just the poor students who cannot travel to a different one. It we did that, we could start returning to the beauty and the power that public education brought to our nation. It is possible and it is being done in places across the nation and even local area. It ironically does come down to a choice-whether we want more equitable and diverse schools or we are find having a two-tiered school system.