Welcome to our private public school ???

Debra Viadero, of Education Week, writes an excellent blog summarizing school research called, coincidentally, “Inside School Research.”

In today’s post, she reports on “public private schools,” which she defines as “public schools that enroll so few students from low-income families that they might as well be called private.” A Fordham Institute study says there are close to 3000 of these schools in our nation.

And I apparently work in one.

Fordham uses these statistics to make a point that those who live in less socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods — those getting the “private public school’ experience — are being hypocritical by opposing schools of choice.  After all, their kids got the choice.

Viadero wonders how much of this is a carryover from segregation days, then leaves us with a big, scary question:

Why are some districts doing a better job than others at balancing diversity in their schools?

And this question hit me particularly hard.  Traditionally, neighborhood schools like mine had no change agent role in the diversity of its school population.  You took responsibility for the kids in your neighborhood. Period.

In Memphis, where I once lived, busing helped end segregation (I was proud to live in a historic neighborhood that during the desegregation movement, devised its own community plan to segregate that was successfully adopted by the district).

But that’s not how things worked here in Michigan.

Here, for better or for worse, I never thought about the fact that you took the kids you got and didn’t think twice about it.  A diverse neighborhood was shaped by other forces, not schools.

The argument that schools of choice as a way to broaden diversity, embarrassingly, never occurred to me.

Watching schools of choice become an economic necessity in some struggling school districts in my area, I see that the movement has been shaped by financial strain, not change agentry. We definitely see a shift as students move from urban Detroit to the suburbs that ring Detroit and then out to the far suburbs like the one where I work.

Often, we see anecdotal evidence that the school of choice movement tends to bring not positive diversity but a continual movement of dissatisfied parents (who, by personality or necessity, switch school districts frequently to keep a step ahead of student behavior problems/suspensions or their own negative experiences) and needy students (in part, needy because they keep switching schools, have longer commutes, and cannot get themselves to school).

Anecdotally (and I have no scientific evidence to back this up), some school of choice kids have more academic gaps, a greater history of school-based concerns, and parents who tend to be more demanding. Many of those students take more instructional and administrative time.

This study gives me pause: both my students’ comparative ease and the uncertainty among suburban teachers that school of choice programs bring students with greater needs and shift attention away from the needs of the neighborhood kids.

Issues of class and status are alive and well, unfortunately. I’m getting more uncomfortable the more I think about this.

One Response to “Welcome to our private public school ???”

  1. Kelly Ahlfeld says:

    thanks for your thoughtful and honest comments!

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