Education As a Civil Right: It Includes School Choice

Asking families and children to put up with mediocre schools  is almost criminal. It is just that simple. Keeping the families of our poor and minority kids shackled to dropout factories and failure mills should most certainly be against the law. When defenders of the status quo say that families should not have a wide array of educational options available — be they traditional districts, public charters, private and parochial schools, or even online learning — they are essentially arguing that there should be no civil right to a high quality education. That argument is absolutely wrong on every moral and intellectual level.

Poor and minority families should not have to wait for these dropout factories to either shut down or be overhauled. Neither should middle-class families or anyone else. What these families deserve is the option to escape. They deserve school choice.

At this moment, for many families (and most-certainly for our poorest kids in urban and rural communities) choice doesn’t really exist. Most traditional districts continue to zone kids to particular schools, restricting their ability to escape low-performing schools. Even in cities such as Houston and Indianapolis that are home to numerous school districts, a child must still attend a zoned school even if a better traditional public option is right across the street from their home. When intra-district choice options — notably magnet schools — do exist, they usually end up being used by middle-class households, who use their strong political connections (and exploit ability tracking systems that serve as the gateways into such schools) to assure seats for their own children.

But it isn’t just about escaping the worst American public  education has to offer. Even in relatively better-performing (if often still mediocre) suburban schools, poor and minority kids are often afterthoughts in instruction and curricula. For them and their middle-class schoolmates, the need for options that better-suit their educational needs is one that most traditional districts just cannot meet.

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