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Black and Hispanic Parents Want Choice

It's always risky to extrapolate the results from one city to another, but I think what is happening in New York City, the home of the nation's largest school district, contains important lessons ("Harlem Schools Are Left to Fail as Those Not Far Away Thrive, " The New York Times, Jan. 24). 

At issue is the contrast in performance between public elementary schools in Community School District 3.  Those on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which are overwhelmingly white or Asian, post impressive results, with the vast majority passing annual state tests, and with gifted and talented programs.  Of those in Harlem, which are mostly black and Hispanic, only one comes even close to the citywide passing rates of 38 percent in reading and 36 percent in math.

Because of the results, black and Hispanic parents have been abandoning the traditional public schools in favor of charter schools.  But not all of them are successful in enrolling their children because of long wait lists.  For example, Public School 333 (the Manhattan School for Children) received 975 applications for 1,200 kindergarten seats, and had a wait list of more than 600 families.

The point is that black and Hispanic parents want the best education for their own children, just as much as parents of all other races do. "Choice parents, on average, are more satisfied with their children's schools than are district-school parents," according to two recent studies released by Education Next.

I've written often before that few parents are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of fairness.  They know that not all children have parents who are involved enough in their education to take advantage of the choices open to them, but they put the needs and interests of their own children first.  That holds as much for black and Hispanic parents as it does for white and Asian parents.  It's altogether natural.

I realize that parental choice will always result in unavoidable collateral damage in the form of the students who are left behind in traditional neighborhood public schools.  That is terribly unfortunate.  But I don't think we can deny the majority their right because of the minority. 

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