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What Are Ocasio-Cortez’s Views on Public School Choice?

No one seemed more surprised at the obliteration of ten-term, fourth-ranking U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley than victor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-identified Democratic Socialist. Last week, in a gobsmacking upset, she won the primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District. Politico described her today as “not just a full-blown political sensation but an international news phenomenon.”

Here’s the video of her reaction to the news of her victory:

The question for those of us who live in the edu-bubble is this: What exactly is her education platform? While she’s on record supporting universal preschool and increasing school funding (as was Crowley, who was rated 100% by the NEA and endorsed by a dozen unions, to no avail), there’s little else we know except that she views herself as “progressive.”

She’ll no doubt clarify her positions. Until then, there’s much to be gleaned by plumbing her personal story, particularly on public school choice.

Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx in 1989. Her late father owned a small business and her mom, a housekeeper, was born in Puerto Rico. She lived in Parkchester in the Bronx until age five, when her family moved to Yorktown Heights, a suburb of Westchester.

This is a familiar story to me: My family also lived in the Bronx (my parents both worked for the NYC DOE, my dad a social studies teacher and my mom a social worker) until I turned five, when we moved in a different direction: to Queens for elementary and junior high and then to Long Island for high school. Why? Apparently for the same reasons as Ocasio-Cortez’s parents: They wanted better schools for their children and exercised America’s most common form of school choice by moving to a different district.

What if her parents had to stay in Parkchester for her middle and high school years?

She most likely would have attended JHS 127, also known as Castle Hill. There, according to most recent NYC DOE data, 36 percent of students met expectations for English Language Arts (ELA) and 26 percent met expectations for math.

But in Yorktown Ocasio-Cortez most likely attended Mildred E. Strang Middle School. There, according to most recent NYS DOE data, 54 percent of students met expectations in ELA and 72 percent met expectations in math.

It’s unclear where she would have attended high school if her parents had to stay in Parkchester. But here’s what we do know: Ocasio-Cortez went to Yorktown High School where 97 percent of students met expectations in ELA and 98 percent met expectations in math. Fifty-five percent of the most recent graduating class was awarded a Regents diploma with advanced designation, which requires a score of 65 or higher on Regents exams in English, three math subjects, global history, US history, one physical science course, one life science course, and a foreign language.*

The high school graduation rate in New York City is 71 percent. The graduation rate at Yorktown High School is 95 percent.

Ocasio-Cortez’s parents exercised school choice — and it worked to her advantage. While at Yorktown High she won second prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a project on the anti-aging effect of antioxidants in roundworms. She continued her education at Boston University with majors in economics and international relations and went on to intern for Ted Kennedy. At age 22 she started a book company to raise the Bronx’s profile and then worked with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The odds are very high that she’ll soon become the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Congress. Will she support the right of parents to exercise public school choice for their children? If personal history is a guide and her progressive principles are consistent, the answer will be “yes.”


*In 2010 the NYS Board of Regents lowered the passing grade on the Algebra Regents to 31.4 percent because so many kids couldn’t pass the test, which made the state look bad. The requirements for the advanced designation diploma haven’t changed: a student still needs to reach a score of 65 percent. However, only 39 percent of NYC high schools offer the advanced courses necessary to earn this prestigious diploma. Statewide, 12 percent of Latinos and 9 percent of Black students make the cut.

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