“The Lottery” and “Stupid in America”, Arguments for School Choice

With shrinking budgets, declining enrollment, school closures, low performing schools, and less than desirable graduation rates can our current public school system be called successful and sustainable? With the failure of schools in urban areas like Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles is it only a matter of time before large suburban districts feel the same pressures? Are the signs of failure right in front of us?

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch “The Lottery” a documentary film that followed four Kindergarten families through the charter school lottery process in Harlem. The heartbreak for the families whose numbers were not picked was juxtaposed against the sheer joy of those whose numbers were. There were 7 applicants for every seat in the charter school. For all of the parents who filled a convention center to hear the lottery results it was clear, for them, this process was about the future for their child.

Parents in MDUSD have recently had a dialogue on the local blogs about “choice” schools. Some say school choice is unfair and that “choice” schools should be closed. I will argue that it is unfair to our children that we do not have more school choice. Choice provides competition and competition raises quality. As parents, we should be demanding more choice for all of the children in our community. The myth that persists that parents in low performing schools don’t care, is just that… a myth. In 2006, John Stossel hosted 20/20 “Stupid in America” a look at public education and school choice. It is worth watching as is The Lottery which is avalable through Netflix.

After you watch Stupid in America please note that in 2010 South Carolina’s average SAT score for reading and math combined was still under 1000 and they are currently ranked 49th in the nation.

Choice or no choice?


7 thoughts on ““The Lottery” and “Stupid in America”, Arguments for School Choice

  1. Hi, thanks for your article. I will definitely check out these movies. I am a parent of a choice school and I couldn’t agree with you more. So much arguing over “choice” schools seems senseless. More districts SHOULD have more choices for families. In San Francisco, you could choose up 5 or more schools you would want to attend and then it is kind of a lottery but at least YOU pick the schools and it is not based out of where you live.

    We would NOT be having these arguments if we were not dealing with school closures..it is kind of sad that schools and families are turning against eachother. This is not a parenting or “status” decision we are dealing with….

    Most parents of choice schools just want whats best for their children and are happy they did have a choice!

  2. We do have choice – in where we purchase our homes. Then you go to your neighborhood schools. Very simple. If parents put half the energy into participating in their neighborhood schools as they put into fighting about “choice” schools, then every school would be fantastic.

    • Jean,
      Not everyone has the ability to choose to purchase a home in an attendance area with good schools.

      However, there is a bigger point and that is that if you look at all of the monopolies that have ever existed, mediocrity has always been present.

      Even our best schools are good but not great. Yes parents can help in many ways but the issues that affect the quality of education go beyond parents and beyond money.

    • Jean,
      What happens if you research the schools, purchase your home based on that research, and then the schools deteriorate? That certainly happened with Northgate HS. Although there is a good principal now, he is faced with the task of turning around a school that suffered under years of indifferent and incompetent leadership. And almost everyone in the community recognizes it. What do we do now? Move? Have you tried to sell a house lately? Why is MY job to MOVE, when it is the educators in this public monopoly who are screwing up?

      What would you think of a world where the government owned all of the supermarkets, and you could only purchase food at your designated market in your neighborhood? And if you wanted anything “special”, there were 1 or 2 private markets in the region, where the food cost 10 times as much. What would you think of a government-run monopoly like that? There would be tests to see if the lettuce was “wilted” or just “below average”. We could do expensive multi-year studies on how long checkout lines could be. We could ask people in Washington DC to define whether the milk was “really” sour or just kind of bad. Would you like a system like that? Well, I wouldn’t, and that’s why I want parents to have a real choice in the schools their children attend. It doesn’t take decades of “research” to “turn around” a bad supermarket: they get better or they close. One of the most important things we can do for our children is give them a good education. And BTW, I have always volunteered in my neighborhood schools, and I give generously to the parent foundations to provide the extras that the tax payers have grown to exasperated to pay. But it is still a stupid, crazy government monopoly that is falling further and further behind the needs of its students and society generally. Frankly, I’m not suprised that it is failing. Shame on all of us for not demanding more choice, because with almost any institution, in every society, without choice, there is no accountability.

      • You’re right, Mr. Mills. I should buy a house in East Palo Alto and insist my children get into a school in Danville.

        Sorry to hear how awful Northgate is – you could have filled out intra-district paperwork and sent them to Ygnacio Valley instead. But instead you left them with “indifferent and incompetent leadership.” That was your mistake, not mine.

        Your argument does not make a shred of sense. Every child deserves a good education, of course. You don’t deserve to push my child around to get it.

  3. MG is our home school as we live in the area. First of all we bought our home in that neighborhood because we liked the area and there happen to be a school very close by which turned out to be MG and at the time were not aware that it was a choice school. Regardless, we live in the attendance area and that would be our home school.
    Maybe if half the parents who complain about choice schools put that energy into their own school, then maybe their school would be better.

    There is nothing wrong with having a choice and families should not be judged or criticized for it. This is not about home school vs. choice school although alot of people are arguing as if were. This is about closing 2-3 schools because of financial issues.

    • Who on earth is “pushing your child around”? Where did that come from? This is not a zero-sum game. The point is to find the best situation for each child, and a district that limits choice is definitely not operating in the best interests of all students. Sorry, but I don’t think I should have to sell my house and move just because one of my local schools has a leadership change and suddenly deteriorates. And given the antiquated personnel practices in MDUSD, it can happen at any time.

      Interesting that you should mention students attending schools outside their district. Do you know that several adjacent districts will accept transfers from MDUSD? Those districts have also faced declining enrollments and are happy to have the extra students to keep from closing schools — IF the student is allowed to bring their ADA funding allotment from the state. MDUSD can approve such a transfer, but state law allows them to refuse such requests, which they generally do. To me, it is incredible that a student who is accepted into another district can be prohibited from leaving the failing district that was the cause of the transfer in the first place. The money does not belong to the district. It is state funding intended for that student’s education, but MDUSD won’t let them off the plantation. Does that make a “shred of sense” to you?

      Similarly, charters are funded by the state allotment of state funds for that child. The money doesn’t belong to the district. Yet this district has fought almost every charter proposal that has come before it. Finally, in the case of Flex Academy, the County Office of Education saw through the districts pointless obstruction and voted to approve that charter’s excellent application.

      This is about parents and students having more choices in the education that OUR tax dollars pay for. If you are happy with whatever MDUSD serves up for your child, then no one is obligating you to seek anything different.

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