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Why take school choice away from the poor?

Here’s what I don’t understand about the opponents of school reform, including their most recent convert, pro-reformer turned anti-reformer Diane Ravitch. What do they have against letting poor parents have options, just as all other parents have?

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week, Ravitch explains that she has turned against charter schools because their “promise has not been fulfilled. Most studies of charter schools acknowledge that they vary widely in quality.” Given “the weight of studies, evaluations and federal test data,” she concludes that charters and deregulation aren’t the answer.

But what about the weight of what parents want? In Harlem, thousands of desperate parents every year apply on their children’s behalf to charter schools and are turned away. They don’t want their children in failing public schools. They can’t afford private schools, and they can’t afford to move to suburbs with better public schools. And there aren’t enough places in the charters -- in large part because the teachers unions and their allies in the New York state legislature have imposed so many restrictions on their establishment.

In Washington, we’ve seen a similar phenomenon -- many more parents every year desperate to win scholarships for their children in a program that, as Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert wrote in The Post on Monday, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are on the verge of killing. Why the over-subscription? Because in the neighborhoods where these parents live, vouchers may be the only option to give their kids a safe and effective education.

Now, I fully accept that some poor parents will make misguided choices on their children’s behalf, just as some middle-class parents undoubtedly do. And I agree that some charter schools are bad and some charter schools are good. We should take seriously “the weight of studies, evaluations and federal test data” to keep learning more about what works and what doesn’t work. We should keep trying to improve traditional public schools, as Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee in Washington are doing. Katrina vanden Heuvel surely is right, as she argued here Tuesday, that ending child poverty is the ultimate answer.

But in the meantime, is it right to tell parents stuck in dangerous schools that they just have to wait for, as vanden Heuvel calls it, that “fundamental change in the way America’s poor are treated in every aspect of their lives?” That they should take heart, because maybe Klein’s and Rhee’s hard work will pay off in time for the next cohort of children? Middle-class parents don’t have to wait; they have options. The evidence is incontrovertible that poor parents want options, too -- today. Why would we take those away?

By Fred Hiatt  | March 11, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Hiatt  | Tags:  Fred Hiatt  
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No tax money for churchs or private schools!

Posted by: obrier2 | March 11, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

In support of the writer's opinion, my question is this: wouldn't it be better for all of us if our students were allowed to 'test in' to a school of choice, and be granted admission regardless of their parent's income level, instead of simply 'buy in' to their new school ?

Posted by: jralger | March 11, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Because success isn't the goal. Government managed success is.

Posted by: msully25 | March 11, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Bring an end to "being poor": work three
jobs instead os relying on US taxpayers
to pay for your rent, food, education,
health care, etc., etc.

Posted by: Sirius2 | March 11, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Darn right no school vouchers or reform. Religion should never ever be involved with government, no prayers in public forums, no "so help me God" pap, no silly nativity scenes or Christmas pageants, no celebration of religious figures or religion, no giving government workers paid days off for religious holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King Day, that will stop all of this religious nonsense.

Posted by: Pelosiforpres | March 11, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse


This was one of the most unbiased, unpoliticized stories written in a long time

Why can't you get your staff to write stories of interest and not stories of POLITICS














Posted by: dove369 | March 11, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I might be more inclined to agree with you if you provided any evidence of Charter's superiority AND that it wouldn't make public schools worse.

Posted by: rjma1 | March 11, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Why are poor people being led to believe that charter schools are better than neighborhood public schools? Why is a public school "dangerous" while a charter school,sometimes in the same building,not dangerous? Whatever the challenges facing the public schools it seems clear creating charter schools that are not required to accept all students and are still not getting good results is not an answer to anything.

Posted by: clary916 | March 11, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I'll answer with another question: What happens to the children left behind in the "bad" school? Is your goal to improve education for only the students whose parents care, or for all children? This is not a hypothetical mutually exclusive intellectual exercise. If you want education for all, then you cannot suport charter schools whose method is to take self-selected motivated learners and provide them with an environment in which to learn with other like-minded and like-supported students. This will necessarily leave the others behind.

The solution should be to determine all of the factors that promote education for all and then implement them for all.

How about begin with Hiatt promoting the value of everyone being educated and promoting the idea that we all know, that education is the responsibility of the learner, the teacher, the parent, the school and the entire community.

Posted by: MrCompGov | March 11, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Hiatt would be very amusing ... if he weren't such a pathetically predictable hack.

If the D.C. scholarships for poor students had been left in place, Hiatt would be raging about forced socialism from Democrats.

If the D.C. scholarships are cut, Hiatt rails about the heartless Democrats "taking school choice away from the poor".

The bottom line is that Hiatt is a completely useless hack that will predictably and reliably rage against anything and everything that Obama and the Democrats do.

Therefore, Hiatt is an utterly useless waste of valuable media space and readers' time.


Posted by: DEFJAX | March 11, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

When I went through gradeschool and highschoool, I didn't need a choice, because the public schools available to me were well-funded and well-run.

And it was nice not being proselytized by some for-profit private company or some religious group or some quasi-military organization.

Fred Hiatt is a Jerk.

Posted by: kurthunt | March 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

To me the crux of the problem is that in order to help aleviate poor children, you must help aleviate poor parents too. How to do this without a government hand-out?

Posted by: ideallydc | March 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

This is the Dems give back to the NEA for the union vote. In return we get poor teachers who are safe since they have union contracts.

Posted by: FLvet | March 11, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The only 'charter' school most systems need is a special school to 'reform' the few kids in each school who are unmanageable and disruptive.

If these kids shape up, they can go back to regular school. If they remain unmanageable, at least they are not ruining school for everyone else.

Posted by: ad9inaz | March 11, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

My daughter's charter school is one of the best schools in the state. Also, the cost per pupil in charter schools is far lower--charter schools do not have the bloated bureaucracies that are school districts (our school district admin building is HUGE). Sounds like a payoff to teacher's unions. Take a look at the NYC public school system to see how unions are capable of holding good education hostage.

Posted by: pepperjade | March 11, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

You evade the real issue as usual. There is much more efficiency and equity if we have good public education. They would exceed the quality of private and religious schools for the rich if we get it right.

The issue is the same fundamental one as your Republican arguments against universal--no opt out--health care. You can't get the equity and efficiency without that public commitment. Otherwise, as we've seen from you and the Republicans, there is nothing else out there except piece-meal barbarism and letting private entities rake in profits at the expense of public schools. Skim off the rich clients and you have nothing but high fees (public) for the rest of us.

Posted by: walden1 | March 11, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Until a Jewish state senator, Bennett Katz(D) decided to act on behalf of the Maine ACLU and request a decision from the A.G. on whether Maine's long standing 'school voucher' program which subsidized a child's education at 'approved' private schools run by religious orders; we had a competitive system whose origins were in public schools run by religious orders and PROTECTED from state interference by the original State Constitution of 1821.

Maine was founded as a religious state; and until Katz issued the challenge to funding religious schools, enjoyed a very good 'mixed' system.

Now we have struggling private schools and public ones mired in mediocrity and urban decay.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | March 11, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I am not totally against charters. . .but what parents want is not the only measure of what we should provide. Parents often want the best for their child and don't too much care what happens to everyone else's children. The school system has to think about what is best and sustainable for everybody. This may be an impossible task, but that is what they try to do.

Posted by: pittypatt | March 11, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"pro-reformer turned anti-reformer Diane Ravitch"

Charter schools are not necessarily reform. Some are good and some are bad.

To judge charter schools as being "reform" doesn't show the whole truth about charter schools.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

There are many variables that have lead to the destruction of the United States education system. Unfortunately many of our urban, inner city, poverty stricken communities are the greatest impacted. While I am not a fan of social programs, it has always been the American way to prosper, live well and help our fellow and fallen brethren. However, where we have failed and continue to fail is that we throw an absurdly amount of money and programs at the "Poverty" issue through welfare (food, housing, medical), education (Title I), and grants/funding for individuals and companies to impinge upon school systems and bombard them with products, services and Charter Schools, which they profess will "Fix" the problem, increase scores, etc.

While many respondents, and citizens of society, demean, demoralize and discount communities, and persons of poverty, I mentally travel back through American history to identify many of our respected and successful leaders, doctors, educators, artists, attorneys, entertainers, scholars, scientists and athletes that were products of poverty (some very extreme), a single parent family, and/or dysfunctional family. How were these individuals and other like them, able to transcend issues and obstacles that "Poverty" is plagued with? It surely was not School Choice. Maybe they did it through Dreaming, Encouragement, Strong Will, Desire, Determination and Hope. These are things that every child or adult can have, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

With an education system that is not a robust as it once was (the term Failing just does not seem fit); I strongly believe that reform is in order. However, I also believe other reforms are as urgently necessary if we are going to truly solve the root causes of the problems we are encountering; Community Reform, Government Reform, Social Program Reform, Justice System Reform.

Simply put School Choice, Charter Schools, and Opt-Out concepts do not solve the problem. However, it does leave lower performing students with the lowest performing students, and behavioral problem children with the worst behavioral problem children. Is this the American school we are trying to create? Would you send your child? Would you teach there? Think about it.

Posted by: will_wash | March 11, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Another thing Hiatt did not mention (and may not know) about charters schools is that they tend to take the better behaved children and leave the lesser behaved children for the public schools. In this case, a charter is better because the teachers don't have to deal with so many behavioral problems.

On the other hand, charters have a high teacher turnover. They also have less experienced teachers overall. This tends to make charters weaker than they could be.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Poor people have fewer options in everything:

Fewer options of where to live
Fewer options of what to wear
Fewer options of what to drive
Fewer options of where to vacation
Fewer options of where to dine.

Being poor is supposed to suck. Otherwise, why work?

Posted by: pmendez | March 11, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I followed your link and read Diane Ravitch's article. It is excellent and tells it like it is. She is not anti-reform, all's she is doing telling what I have already seen as a teacher in a low income area.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools do not always tend to take the better-behaved children. It depends on the type of charter school. Ones that focus on specific areas such as the arts, technology, or science may attract motivated students, but there are public charter schools that accept and keep the opposite. The one in my community is staffed by teachers who could not get hired anywhere else, and the students are by far and large ones who were suspended from public schools and were constant discipline problems. This "charter school" accepts them, keeps them, and expects the teachers to "deal with it" so that the student numbers stay up. And no, it's not a special school for students with behavioral problems. There are some "good" kids there as well, but the majority of the students are problems, and the parents send them there because they know the administrator will do nothing because she wants her numbers up to justify the existence of her school. In addition, the public school system's funds are drained because it has to provide the charter school with materials, books, and a curriculum. Fortunately, this particular school is currently on my state's warning list. While there are certainly fine charter schools out there which intelligent, motivated students should have accees to, be aware that "charter school" does not always mean "better school."

Posted by: Readbooks1 | March 11, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Fred, if you had bothered to read the credo study you would have seen that charter school are not working for poor kids. Significant less effective than traditional schools.

Posted by: frmike | March 11, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"The one in my community is staffed by teachers who could not get hired anywhere else, and the students are by far and large ones who were suspended from public schools and were constant discipline problems."

Are you sure this is not a therapeutic day school? Schools don't send their behavioral problems to charter schools, but rather to therapeutic day schools.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

"What do they have against letting poor parents have options, just as all other parents have?"

Because education is not like other forms of consumption. If a car breaks down, you can buy a new one. If you spend years in a charter school system in which the quality is zig-zagging all over the place, you can't get those years back.

Posted by: merkytimes | March 11, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Ravitch and some posters who assert that treating the root cause of poor performance (poverty) is the way to address underperforming schools, which are located in predominantly poor locales. My brother who teaches in a poor suburb of Houston, TX (Spanish is the first language) said that there is too much emphasis on preparing students to take the standardized tests that severely limits time in the classroom to devote to other subjects. He is a nationally certified teacher who is respected by his students, peers, and principal alike because he is devoted to his students and loves his career. One thing that he faces regularly is 12 and 13 year old girls coming to school and telling him they are pregnant. He does all he can to try to convince them to stay in school but 99% never return after the babies are born.

Charter schools are NOT the solution nor is mandating punitive measures such as firing teachers/principals/administrators, closing schools or continuing to follow only the performance based path(NCLB). Providing before and after school programs and fully funding university/community college/technical college tuition thus giving students direction, hope, and reasons to stay in school. J. Kozol wrote an excellent book on education titled "Savage Inequalities" that I suggested President Obama and Secy of Education Arne Duncan read in my letter to the White House. EVERYONE who has any input about ecuation "reforms" in the U.S. should read this book.

Posted by: politico5 | March 11, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

"My brother who teaches in a poor suburb of Houston, TX (Spanish is the first language) said that there is too much emphasis on preparing students to take the standardized tests that severely limits time in the classroom to devote to other subjects."

Oh my goodness, that is exactly the same thing I am experiencing. About 15 days spent in pre-testing on reading and language arts, and about 10 days on math. It was horrible. Those days could have been spent on instruction, instead they were spent on pre-testing and pre-testing and pre-testing.

In addition, some of my Spanish speaking students never experience English outside of school. Everything in their community: the park district, their church, girl and boy scouts is in Spanish. They are much less fluent in English than either white or black kids.

And - the English used in the standardized tests is white middle class/upper middle class English. Some of the phrases and word usages are not famaliar to my black students. This means that when they read the tests, the wording used is not as famaliar to them as it is to white students. Thus they don't score as well!

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

All children should be required to attend public schools. This would create real equality of opportunity. Also, by requiring the rich and powerful to send their children to public schools, you can be darn sure that the quality of public schools would improve - the political will and money for it would suddenly be found.

Also, in order for this to be successful, district boundaries that separate rich and poor should be eliminated - children should be able to attend any school a reasonable distance from their homes.

Finally, this would reduce the economic, racial, and religious stratification in the country.

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | March 11, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

It's a myth that all parents and children already have school choice. If you pick the wrong neighborhood, or the school re-draws school boundaries, and you can't afford to move,or don't want to leave your home, you have no choice. I attended PG County schools in the 70s when desegregation dictated where I attended school. My parents - white, middle class people - did not move, or send me to private school out of fear. I attended the school that the I was assigned to attend, miles from my first neighborhood school. School choice, to me and to many others, is code for privatizing schools. Focus on making ALL public schools better, not the tiny fraction of charter schools that are available. Most kids (about 90 percent of US children I think) attend public schools.

Posted by: readerny | March 11, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

I meant to say in my previous post's a myth that all middle class people already have school choice. I realize that impoverished families usually don't have the same choices, but not all working or middle class people have "school choice."

Posted by: readerny | March 11, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

You know what really kills me about this - almost all of the schools that are being closed are ones with Hispanic or African American students. The schools are being closed because the students didn't do well on standardized tests. But how could they? The Hispanic kids weren't fluent enough in English, and African American kids spoke a different kind of English than was on the test.

How can tests written in white English be used to judge the schools Hispanic and African American kids attend? But that is exactly what Arne Duncan did when he closed several public schools in Chicago. He closed Hispanic and African American schools, not white schools. That's because the Hispanic and African American kids couldn't do as well on standardized tests written in white English as white kids do.

And now Duncan is trying to do that across the country!

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

The Federal Government should pass a law that declares that all school districts apportion their total budget (and capital expenses) by each child registered, and mandate that the money follows where ever the child and his or her parents decide is the best school (or homeschool). Instead of school taxes being given to schools regardless of how good or bad they are, the Federal government could and should mandate that school taxes are targeted for the education of real children. In our district, about $22,000 is spent for special needs children while $16,000 is spent for other children. If that money "followed the child" it could pay for most private or public schools anywhere in the county. If a parent who homeschooled could keep that money, it would buy the best books, computers, special equipment, and help reimburse the parent's earnings given up to be their child's teacher. Our own child was not well-served by the local school district due to auditory processing needs, and our homeschooling avoided the school district's plan to give up 2-3 years of learning before attempting any remediation. If public school buildings become empty due to this, they can be sold and the staff consolidated into fewer schools to meet the student's needs better.

Posted by: DMBicksler | March 11, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Buy a clue and try being honest with the public a newspaper is entrusted with. This charter school movement is mostly about making already poor schools even poorer -- to subsidize religious choices for the already affluent, sanction segregation and bust up teacher's unions.

Posted by: SarahBB | March 11, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Fred, why don't you start a scholarship fund?
Get the Federal City clowns to contribute. Their ad in the Post just after Miss Rhee said the fired teachers abused kids and had sex with them would pay the tuition fro 5 kids to attend Catholic elementary school.

As for your line:
"pro-reformer turned anti-reformer "
that like me asking you when did you stop kicking your dogs.

Posted by: edlharris | March 11, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Hiatt,

Are you going to read Diane Ravitch's book?

Posted by: jlp19 | March 11, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Fully two-thirds of the DC voucher money goes to Catholic schools. Why? $7,500, the amount of the voucher per pupil, will not fund an independent school tuition, which is nearly $30,000 per year. Newsflash: the middle class can't afford that, either.

Can you imagine a similar amount of federal tax dollars going directly to Muslim schools?

Didn't think so.

Regardless of what the current Supreme Court says, this kind of influx of federal tax dollars to religious education should make anyone who believes in the First Amendment uncomfortable.

Posted by: trace1 | March 11, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

This is just more of the post's agenda driven yellow journalism to line the pockets of board members like gates. Before Bush could launch the war to get those WMD's he had to co-opt the media into thinking his narrow view was somehow better than what the facts suggested. Now the media co-opt is out in full force to start the war against education. Think how much can be made if we could just get our hands on that pot of cash.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 11, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Mr Hiatt, if this was simply a matter of choice the decision is a no brainer. The problem is that charter schools have not proved to be universally positive. There are a number of thoughtful academic research projects (Univ of Wisconsin, and CREDO at Univ of Stanford for example) that conclude students in charter schools don't perform any better then public schools. Second, and this is a major point in New York City, you don't improve public schools by opening charter schools. All you do is decrease the number of committed parents left at the Public School and take funding from the existing school system which is already strapped. Instead of charter schools and vouchers for private schools how about a real, honest to God commitment to fix the public school system. The mandatory standards proposed by the governors is a good start. So instead of charters lets have national standards and hold public school educators and administrators accountable for performance.

Posted by: army164 | March 11, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

I know a family who sacrificed to put their two children in Catholic elementary, without any voucher or scholarship from the government.
The father worked long and hard each day, as did his wife who worked two jobs-one cleaning and one at a fast food place.

People make choices with their money.
If they wish to send their child to a parochial school, then they need to chose to not spend in some areas and save. It can be done, Fred.

Posted by: edlharris | March 12, 2010 2:42 AM | Report abuse

Good charter schools end up being elitist, and there seems to be no way to avoid this. Some might be very good, but they can't handle all the students that need good schools. The top charter schools manage to get some of the best teachers and the students with the parents who are the most focused on education. The few that manage to go to the good charter schools certainly benefit, but they are the elite even if they are poor. What is needed is improvements that work with average teachers, average students, and average parents. If the charter schools could find some improvements that would work for these cases, they would be worth it, but I don't think that this has happened. Or if it has, then we haven't noticed.

Probably the most important is thing is the attitude of the parents. Students from cultures with very strong support of eduction tend to do well even in schools that are failing many other students.

Posted by: physicist | March 12, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Because the money were giving to private schools is coming directly from the budgets that would improve public schools.

Because the initiative to fix the public schools is eliminated by the cop-out of charter schools.

Because it further stratifies the school age population into haves and have-nots. A population of wannabe's and too bad, so sad.

Because it turns the remaining public schools into a wasteland ghetto of miserable, unhappy, hopeless children who must fight twice as hard to get half as far.

But mostly because children, all children, deserve equality and justice.

Posted by: joebanks | March 12, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

In the movie Precious which I have mixed feelings about, there is one vital line - the mother says she is the best one to care for her child. She asserts that and I agree that with enough support nearly all mothers are the ones most competent to make decisions for their children. Choice of schools is only one example and it is very sad that we assume so often that the parent in poverty is also poor at parenting. We not only take away choices but we often take away the child, subtly, by forcing mothers in poverty to earn and put the child into care with strangers. In economies that still clearly only value paid work, where care of a child is still seen as a hobby or a right only of the rich, we have a long way to go baby.

Posted by: bevgsmith | March 13, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

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