This Labor Day weekend, this Courier-Post article caught my eye. It describes the state’s interdistrict school choice program, and describes the increased number of districts opening up their seats to children from other districts.
I noticed something about the districts though: they are almost all older suburban districts such as Brooklawn, Collingswood, and Lawnside. Not districts with the top schools in the area – the Eveshams, Haddonfields, and Mount Laurels.
That’s because the state progam is voluntary. And it appears that each district has to make a choice: what is worth more to them, the extra cash the program brings, or the “value” of excluding lower-income kids, predominantly of color, from their schools?
To their credit, some districts, such as Brooklawn which is quoted in the article, have recognized that racial and economic diversity are positive, rather than negative, factors in education.
But why is that recognition limited to older suburbs? Some of the wealthier districts probably don’t have extra space. But I highly doubt there is a total correlation here.
Why don’t the school “reformers” talk about these kinds of issues more? We have lots of great schools already – public schools, with unionized teachers – in places like Haddonfield, or Livingston, where hedge funder and school reformer David Tepper lives. Why aren’t the reformers on the front lines demanding that the children that they are trying to “save” in Camden and Newark be admitted to Haddonfield and Livingston schools? Surely such opportunities would be greatly helpful to many children.
It’s easy to tell someone living somewhere else to reform their schools. It’s a lot harder to actually take on the task in your community. And to be fair, this separates out some of the reform community from others – like the Catholic Church who has worked hard to provide educations to poor kids in their own institutions.
But other reformers living in wealthier towns – will you demand that your own schools be part of the solution? And if not why not?
It’s just a smaller part of the question we all should ask this Labor Day – are we all part of one America where everyone’s work is valued and people of all backgrounds are welcomed as our peers and neighbors? Or are we headed back towards the caste society that unions were formed to overcome?