The Other School Choice


When the Obamas sent their daughters to a private school rather than a DCPS school, it became the subject of much controversy. But as Dana Goldstein points out another, much more typical case of school choice, goes like this:

But a month later, another prominent family’s search for a school went largely unnoticed. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan moved with his family from Chicago, where he had been chief executive officer of the city’s public schools, to Arlington, Virginia. High-quality suburban public schools were “why we chose” to live in Arlington, Duncan told Science magazine in March. “It was the determining factor.”

She argues for more robust efforts to create socioeconomically integrated schools, including across district lines:

This doesn’t mean we should reopen the busing wars. Rather, we should foster regional partnerships between urban and suburban districts. The Obama administration and Congress, as they consider the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind later this year, ought to provide more funding for the creation of high-quality public magnet schools in urban districts. Magnet programs in the sciences and performing arts encourage affluent parents to keep their kids within the public system. And when enrollment at those magnet schools is open to suburban students, seats for city kids become available at traditional suburban high schools. Cities such as Hartford, St. Louis, and Milwaukee already have oversubscribed inter-district transfer programs that work in this way.

Actually helping DC students in this manner might pose special challenges since our suburbs are actually in different states. But this is still a good idea, and the evidence is really pretty compelling that poor kids do better when given access to a more middle class learning environment. On the other hand, there’s some research indicating that logistically speaking this would only work for 10-20 percent of students in high-poverty schools. Still, I wouldn’t sneer at that result, nor would I be surprised by the conclusion that no single change in education policy can produce sweeping, across-the-board improvements in student achievement. Meanwhile, Diane Piché says that study is underestimating the possibilities. One way or the other, I can’t think of any good reason for a governor who’s genuinely interested in improving opportunities for poor kids not to be trying something along these lines.