Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dangers of Monopoly Schooling

There is a big battle being waged over placing a charter school within the confines of Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side. The NY Post objects to the objectors: "Do middle-class parents deserve good, free public schools for their kids? That's the question the city's Panel for Educational Policy will answer Tuesday, when it votes on whether to let a new charter school -- the Upper West Success Academy, run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz -- share available space at Brandeis HS on West 84th Street in Manhattan. A thumbs-up would be a huge step toward finally giving these folks real options for their kids. Options, that is, that don't require spending massive sums for private schools or having to move to the 'burbs."

Who are objecting and what are their objections? The Post tells us: "Alas, the teachers union, which sees charters -- and Moskowitz, personally -- as a threat to its monopoly, has folks scared out of their wits about the plan. It's also got its army of bought-and-paid-for pols riling up neighbors. The stakes, you see, are huge: If charters -- public schools that are generally not unionized -- out-compete labor-run schools in middle-class areas, it would spell big trouble for the union."

This controversy has a back to the future quality to it for us-it was over fifty years ago that mother Ruth Lipsky, along with other middle class parents, began their lobbying effort for a comprehensive high school on the West Side-only to receive Brandeis long after their children had gone on the college. And let's be honest, Brandeis is a mess-and no one in the neighborhood sends their kids there. So, providing parents with competitive options is, in our view, a good thing.

Others disagree: "Which might help explain the incendiary rhetoric: Moskowitz's charters are a "separate and unequal system," the critics' press release said this week. Her schools are "turning district school children into second-class citizens." Rep. Jerrold Nadler was quoted saying "all parents" should have excellent schools -- falsely implying that the charter, which would admit kids by lottery, would discriminate. City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, the release said, explicitly saw the school as "exclusionary" -- again, a nonsensical charge, given the admissions lottery."

But what charters do ideally is to spur the other public schools on-and if there is a, "separate and unequal," system on the West Side it is being provided by Walden, Calhoun, Collegiate, Trinity, and York-not by Eva Moskowitz's efforts. But this is typical of a certain strand of UWS elitism that we have seen before in this regard. About twenty years ago, local school boards were resisting programs for the talented and gifted as, what else, elitist and exclusionary. As a result, Anthony Alvarado began to poach large numbers of white kids over to East Harlem where District 3 developed junior high school programs to attract these high achievers.

But there are those who would rather have a one size fits all leveling-even while many of these same folks avoid the public schools for their own kids. The school monopoly, however, is a failure-and in our view whatever can be done to offer parents a different choice of schools is a good thing and should be encouraged.

The Post underscores this point: "What's key to note here is that Moskowitz is merely responding to demand. Yes, the Upper West Side has some very good schools, like PS 199 and PS 87. But these often have long waiting lists. Clearly, the district needs more good schools -- and Moskowitz has a proven track record: Her Harlem and Bronx Success Academy charters have placed among the city's very best. But so far, Moskowitz's charters have served primarily lower-income, minority neighborhoods. Yuppie nabes deserve the same choice."

If the choice is not sufficiently there, parents will vote with their feet-either leaving to the suburbs, or paying exorbitant private school fees. The exit question for us-and we were in the middle of the community control battle in 1968-is what are the critics so deathly afraid of?