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Parents' First Duty Is to Their Own Children

In the protracted debate over parental choice, the strongest argument heard time and again against the policy is that it is not fair ("New York City Has 1,800 Public Schools. Why Not Let Parents Pick?" The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 8). I'd like to take a closer look at this claim.

The latest data along this line come from New York City, home of the nation's largest school system. Under a citywide program called Public School Choice, parents have the right to move their children from a poorly performing school to a better one.  So far so good.  But last year the city approved transfers for only about 3,500 students out of the 5,500 families who applied.  The latter likely kept their children in underperforming schools or enrolled them in private or religious schools.

Perhaps recognizing that it had a potential rebellion on its hands, the district began "guidance" transfers.  But the kicker is that they are open only to students in 88 "priority" schools, which are perennially poorly performing schools.  Students who are in nonpriority (but hardly stellar) schools are out of luck. 

As readers of this column know, I support parental choice, even though I acknowledge it creates losers in the form of those students who fail to get a spot in a better school.  Is that fair?  Of course not.  But is it fairer to deny parents who have sacrificed for years to make the education of their children their No. 1 concern?  Ethicists emphasize that parents can put the interests of their own children first while still fighting for the rights of other children.

I continue to see first-hand the effects of denying parents the right to choose.  In fact, I believe that the popularity of charter schools - despite their spotty record - is the direct result of the anger and frustration that parents feel.  If they are not given wider freedom to choose, I think it will be an important factor in the destruction of public education in this country down the line.

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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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