Segregated by Choice
Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio are drawn together by party lines, but their stances on education reform show the space between them. Cuomo has room to move towards greater choice, but the efforts he outlined in his State of the State speech are a step in the right direction. Mayor DeBlasio and New York City School Chancellor Carmen Fariña have chosen to walk backwards. Their mission began last year with the beginning of the end of colocation of charter and traditional public schools.
New York City has more than 400 high schools and over 700 programs, as well as 197 charter schools. There is access to a uniquely diverse set of learning opportunities as well as high quality higher education opportunities like Columbia, NYU or Hunter. Every day, children travel all throughout the five boroughs for schools like Bronx School of Science or LaGuardia High School of Music & Art. These options provide a certain degree of choice, but not as much as a diverse mix of charter, private, and public schools.
A major challenge facing new schools is securing space. New building construction can take years, and is extremely expensive. Efforts to halt the growth of school choice were undertaken last year by DeBlasio and Fariña. They rescinded colocations agreed on under Mayor Bloomberg from 3 charter schools run by Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools and school choice advocate. Mayor DeBlasio once described colocation as “abhorent”. There is a personal element to DeBlasio’s motives, given his long running public feud with Eva Moskowitz, but the attack on choice hurts minority and low income families directly. 93% of children in NYC charter schools are minority students, and 73% are in low income households. Critics of colocation argue that it “creates a system of haves and have nots”. That doesn’t have to be the case.
An innovative example is KIPP Cooper Norcross school in Camden, New Jersey. Every child in the district is guaranteed a spot at the charter school. What this does is combat the argument charters only take the best and brightest from public schools, leaving the children most in need to stay in the failing school. It is a simple rule that Ms. Fariña could get behind: make charters accept each child from their district. This kind of rule levels the playing field when it comes to judging student performance results within communities. It presents both charter and traditional public schools with an opportunity to prove they best serve the students.
Competition of this type will challenge both the students and the teachers to do better for the communities they teach. By increasing choice and providing families with a way out of failing schools, we can provide the right incentives for bettering our schools through choice. Creating an appropriate colocation policy can show the benefits of school choice in a way the Bill DeBlasio and Carmen Fariña won’t be able to ignore.