By MARK VAGELAKOS
School choice has reached Florida only to point out our failing school system. As more opportunities become available to shift students into “A” schools, Florida’s problem of failing schools worsens.
School choice refers to parents’ ability to transfer their child to a school outside of their designated school zone, in hoping the child will get a better education at a school with a higher grade.
Typically, school grades are calculated based on several factors, but the grade to determine transfer eligibility is based only on the average Florida Comprehension Assessment Test scores. Currently students in 159 Florida schools are eligible for transfer, up six times from last year’s figure of 24 schools. Schools eligible include Edgewater and Colonial high schools, even though Colonial had an overall school grade of “B” last year.
While advocates of school choice argue it is important that parents are able to put their child in the best school possible, simply moving a kid around only avoids the issue of bad schools. When caring parents pull their student out of the “F” schools they are zoned for, a void is created where schools become entirely composed of students whose parents do not care or do not have the resources to transfer their child. Consequently, there is little push to better schools or receive better funding, and these schools are left with no hope of increasing their grade.
Since funding is increased with the school’s grade, school choice provides relief to those students who transfer but the majority of students are left in a cycle of ill equipped schools and poor education.
Furthermore, adherents of the school choice position have ironically lost sight of the American principle of equal opportunity. The objective of public schools is to create an ideal learning environment for everyone involved. If parents want to ensure the best education for their child, they can pay private schools, instead of working around the system and leaving behind hopelessly failing schools.
A failing system does not call for an abandonment of principle but rather an effort toward solution. Instead of busing out students and fiscally punishing schools for receiving bad grades, money should be spent implementing strategies of successful schools for everyone.
Beside the problems with principle and theory, there are also technical issues with implementing and running a school choice system.
For example, school choice raises the issue of athlete recruiting. Since the transfer system does not work like the magnet system, where students have to maintain high grades to stay in the program, athletes can be recruited to schools without focusing on academics. This further opens the door for illegal bribes in exchange for attending a particular school, like the problem in collegiate sports.
In addition, transportation adds a major cost for the underfunded school budget. This means students seeking a better school would need to provide their own transportation to and from school. However, this is simply not an option for the single parent working multiple jobs to raise multiple children. Thus, school choice is reserved only for those of means and students of low income families are condemned to attend doomed schools.
Moreover, increased school choice creates an image reminiscent of the “Separate but Equal” era, as most of the schools eligible for transfer are predominantly black.
According to a 2005 Alliance for Excellent Education study, “More than 60 percent of black students in the United States attend schools where more than 50 percent of the school population is identified as living in poverty, compared to 18 percent of white students.”
This re-segregation has led to clearly better schools for predominantly white students, compared to those of black students. According to the same study, “Black students were more likely than white students to attend schools where trash was present on the floor (29 percent versus 18 percent) and graffiti was present (10 percent versus 3 percent).”
The failing school system is a result of years of preferential treatment to schools that traditionally do well compared to those which traditionally fail. If the parents desperately trying to move their children to better schools were forced to stay in their zone, the lackadaisical attitude toward improving “F” schools would no longer be tolerated.