How can we change the education landscape in Memphis? School Choice
By Tommy Schultz
A few days ago, the Memphis Daily News penned an editorial about the changing landscape of schools in Memphis.
It reads in part:
A school for every enclave, placed just a few miles apart, isn’t practical or feasible any more. That could change if the city becomes denser. But we are in the midst of a profound change in the places we choose to live, or, for some of us, have had to live.”
That resetting of the map of Memphis isn’t done by any means, and it is still too early to tell if noble intentions will match the ultimate reality.
But our schools are the tip of the spear in many ways.
School choice used to mean an optional schools program of some kind.
Parents today can and do choose different school systems, standalone charters or private schools.
Schools continue to be important in building communities. But they can’t remain for the sake of nostalgia or as some kind of monolithic talisman whose mere physical presence keeps the area safe.
If that were the case, children in some parts of our city wouldn’t have to walk past decay, neglect and danger, as they do now, to get to what is essentially an outpost or fortress. It’s what is left of the concept of a “neighborhood school.” And the neighborhood school, in truth and in image, was never intended to take on all of the problems outside its doors.
Why should students have to walk past “decay, neglect and danger, as they do now”?
Some families aren’t fortunate enough to afford the move to a new location. Some families also aren’t able to afford certain private schools. Why should they then be stuck using taxpayer dollars to only go to certain schools with no choice in the matter? Why should they be forced to send their child to a school that is performing in the bottom five percent in the entire state?
Why can’t they use those same taxdollars to try a different educational approach? Why can’t they get a high quality education for their son or daughter? According to a 2013 CREDO Stanford report, Tennessee’s charter school students were shown to learn an equivalent of an additional 86 days of Reading and 72 days of Math compared to their peers in the traditional public schools.
While there may be some nostalgia for the way things used to be, when a student is shuffled through a failing school, they won’t have much nostalgia to look forward too. Thousands of Memphis families are begging for school choice because they understand how dire the situation is.
If a student in the bottom performing schools had the opportunity to go to a better performing school, their life could take an entirely different trajectory. It could end a cycle of poverty for some that has lasted generations.
Giving parents choices in their child’s education is an easy answer.