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Free At Last! Why New Yorkers Can Admit To Loving School Choice Again

New Yorkers love school choice. Especially those who don’t realize they have it.

As I wrote in December 2018, those are the parents who insist everyone should attend their zoned public school. It’s the moral thing to do.

But then they apply to progressive unzoned schools. And dual language programs. And Gifted & Talented programs. And the Special Music School. And Hunter College Elementary. And if none of those work out, well, then, they just move to a different neighborhood. Because, you see, while everyone should attend their zoned public school — it’s the moral thing to do — the one in their catchment just wasn’t a good fit for their child at the elementary school level. Or the middle school level. Or the high school level.

Those families include pretty much every single elected official in NYC. I told you New Yorkers love school choice!

When Donald Trump was elected president four years ago. I knew that the school choice which New Yorkers loved was in trouble. Because you know who supported school choice? Donald Trump. 

As I wrote in December of 2019, as soon as Donald Trump was elected president four years ago, people who’d never given American education a moment’s thought, were suddenly up in arms:

Did I know that the United States ranks #31 in math, reading, and science according to The Program For International Student Assessment (PISA)? Was I aware that less than 50% of NYC students can read and do math at grade level? That over 30% of NYC high school graduates can’t meet basic academic competency requirements for City College? That over 80% of Black NYC seventh-graders failed the state math exam?…. Mentioning any of the above prior to 2016 typically provoked the response that everything was generally fine—sure, there were a few trouble spots here and there, but that was due to poverty, not instruction or curriculum. There’s nothing you can do to educate poor kids. Or kids who didn’t speak English. So what if it took the average NYC English Language Learner (ELL) four years to move into a general education classroom? It’s not like they were missing anything. Even Arne Duncan, the secretary of education for a much more popular president got pushback when he suggested that all American kids—not just ELL’s and poor ones—weren’t doing as well as they ought to. His Race to the Top, like George Bush’s earlier No Child Left Behind, was criticized from both sides of the political aisles.

I hoped that the sudden interest in American education would be good for actually passing some legislation to improve it.

But any attempt to do so was met with pushback.

When I asked parents what they, specifically, were against when it came to Donald Trump’s education policy, they confidently responded, “Betsy DeVos.”

What about Betsy DeVos?

“Betsy DeVos,” they repeated. 

It was not a very productive four years of educational policy discussion.

But now our long national nightmare is over. Betsy DeVos is out of office. Donald Trump is out of office.

Those who previously feared being hunted down by (online) death squads lest word get out that they’d practiced school choice themselves, which was the equivalent of declaring loyalty to the current national government, could finally come out of hiding. 

January 24 to 30, 2021 is National School Choice Week. Those New Yorkers who chose unzoned progressive schools, dual language programs, Gifted & Talented programs, the Special Music School, Hunter College Elementary School, screened schools, arts schools, specialized schools, charter schools, and private schools – including the majority of NYC politicians – can, once again, proudly stand up and proclaim their support for school choice, as evidenced by the choices they made for their own children.

Anything else would be hypocritical, right

President Joe Biden went to private school and educated his children the same way. So he must clearly believe that families should have options beyond their assigned zone. 

His incoming Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, is on the record as saying, “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option.”

Rejoice, New Yorkers! This is a Secretary of Education who understands that when the local public school isn’t a good fit, you have no choice but to seek other alternatives! (So did the one before him, but, well… Betsy DeVos.)

Previously, you couldn’t admit to having exercised school choice as long as Donald Trump was in office. Fortunately, now the exact same choices that you and thousands of other New Yorkers made are no longer evidence of being a right wing reactionary. They are proof of being a pro-choice progressive! After all, in NYC, charter schools are much less segregated than most of the high-performing zoned and unzoned public schools:

And they do the best job of reducing the achievement gap between white students and those of color, the rich and the poor. What could be more progressive than supporting that?

Parents no longer have to stammer excuses about why they’re not attending their zoned public school, twisting themselves into logic pretzels to force the decisions they made for their own children match their stated position of being automatically against everything Donald Trump is for. Even celebrities like Matt Damon and Cynthia Nixon can breathe a sigh of relief on that front!

No more rationalizations, no more excuses, no more cowering in the shadows.

President Joe Biden is in the White House.

We are all free to support school choice again, just like he did with his kids.

Anything else would be hypocritical, right?

What do you think?

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