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Parents Acting in Self-Interest Is Natural

Is there a public-school crisis, or is it manufactured?  For parents, it all depends on their particular situation.  This is the argument most recently made by Eva Moscowitz, founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools ("A School Crisis? Yes," The New York Times, Jan. 31).  

I have no brief for Moscowitz or for charter schools, as I've indicated in this column ("Verdict on Charter Schools Is Elusive," Oct. 1, 2014).  But I believe that parents have the right - indeed, the duty - to send their children to any school they believe best meets their unique needs and interests. The devil as always, however, is in the details.  

Critics of my view will argue that not all parents have the sophistication to do so.  Therefore, it is unfair to implement a policy that allows some parents to benefit at the expense of others.  In other words, children must be sacrificed on the altar of ideology.  For example, in New York City, home of the nation's largest school district, 143,000 children are trapped in failing schools, where fewer than one in 10 can read or do math at grade level. The majority of these students are black and Hispanic.

I can't speak for all parents.  But I know that many are desperate. If not, why were about 49,700 students on wait lists for admission to charter schools in New York City alone at last count?  This was a record. Moreover, why has charter-school enrollment climbed from less than one million in 2005 to what is expected to be more than three million this year?

I realize that charter schools play by a different set of rules than traditional public schools ("Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled," The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3). This is a vital distinction. However, parental demand for admission to charter schools cannot be denied.  And I certainly don't think parents should feel guilty if they choose to go that route.  They're only doing what is natural.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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