My letter to the NY Times re: Why Not Allow School Choice Regardless of Outcomes

Dear Sirs:
In his excellent review of Robert Pondiscio’s How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice Dale Russakoff seems to assume that parents should be allowed to send their children to a charter school only if that school performs better than the public school. The author, Mr. Pondiscio, had immersed himself for a year in Success Academy, a charter school in New York City whose students consistently outperformed public school students in standardized tests. Mr. Pondiscio found that it was the parents who really made the difference. Success Academy vetted parents who would work with their children and ensure that homework got done, etc. This is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, the implication seems to be that we really don’t need charter schools, because the children of such responsible parents would do just as well anywhere. But why must a charter school prove that it is superior? Why can’t parents simply be allowed to choose their children’s schools, even if the children attending alternate schools perform less well on standardized tests? Despite the fact that parents may choose a school for reasons other than high student performance on test scores–proximity to home, friends of the children attending there, better nonacademic environment, better sports opportunities, etc.–no one seems to consider the freedom and choice of parents and their children. In other words, it’s really none of society’s business where or why parents send their children to the school of their choice.
Patrick Barron
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