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Oakland Schools Are Battleground for Parental Choice

The latest venue for the debate about parental choice is the Oakland Unified School District ("Oakland District at Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools," The New York Times, Mar. 5). The immediate cause of the rebellion by teachers and some parents is the superintendent's plan to allow families to use a single form to apply to any of the district's 86 traditional public schools or to its 44 charter schools.

Yet there is a more fundamental reason that goes beyond the superintendent's proposal.  It is anger over the attempt by billionaires to remake public education to resemble businesses.  It is seen most blatantly in the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has injected $144 million to date into charter schools across the country. It includes the foundation issuing a handbook on how to close troubled traditional public schools. (It's interesting to note that the foundation has not done the same for troubled charter schools.)

I understand the anger that teachers in Oakland and in other cities feel.  The deck is indeed stacked against them in every way.  Charter schools play by a completely different set of rules than traditional public schools, even though they are funded by taxpayers. Yet teachers in the latter are expected to perform miracles.

But I think their anger is misdirected.  Parents want to send their own children to the school that they alone believe best meets their needs and interests.  As one mother said: "It's a lot of politics beyond my reach.  I'm more concerned about my children's education."  Ethicists explain that duties to kin outweigh other considerations.  Parents can advocate for their own while still fighting for others without feeling guilty.

I resent the enormous influence that billionaires have over public education in this country.  However much most parents agree with me, they are refusing to sacrifice the education of their own children on an ideological altar.  I don't blame them one bit. The long charter wait lists in cities across the country are evidence. This in spite of a new survey of voters nationwide finding growing concern overall about charter schools ("The Positive Aura of Charter Schools Is Wearing Thin," Common Dreams, Mar. 4).  In the final analysis, that's the real question.

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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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