Two High-need School Districts Let Families Choose Education

Bronx School Choice

New York, NY – A revolution is brewing in the South Bronx and in Ocean Hill/Brownsville, Brooklyn, as parents there can now declare independence from some of the city’s worst-performing elementary schools.

The local Community Education Councils have empowered mothers and fathers of incoming kindergarten students to choose the schools that offer their children the districts’ best opportunities for education.

No longer will the kids be force-funneled into failing schools based solely on where they live.

Choice in education can drive higher achievement. Parents flock to schools that do well and shun those that fail to get results — while administrators and teachers are forced to compete for students by raising their games.

There is plenty of failure in both districts.

Encompassing Mott Haven, Melrose and Concourse in the Bronx, District 7 has a population that is both poor and minority.

Just 25% of the children met or exceeded standards in English last year, and a mere 38% made the grade in math. And those numbers are an improvement over the 23% in English and 35% in math posted two years ago.

In contrast, the district’s 10 charter schools scored 57% proficiency in English and 71% in math. Serving the same cohort of neighborhood children, the charters are filled with kids whose parents secured better choices by applying for admission and being selected by lottery.

In Brooklyn’s District 23, an equally impoverished and minority area, a mere 30% of students scored at or above grade level in English this year, and a dismal 38% did the same in math. That’s up from 28% in English and 34% in math in 2010.

Those fortunate few children who claimed spots in district charter schools attained 56% proficiency in English and 82% in math this year.

Now, a broader range of parents will get a greater degree of choice as well.

While none of the traditional schools in either district perform at the level of the top charters, the best will draw the largest number of applicants and the worst should face intense public pressure to improve.

“If you have no choice,” said District 7 council President Neyda Franco, “you can’t do anything.”

The two councils’ break with the traditional system is a mark of intense frustration on the part of the volunteer panels, made up primarily of parents, grandparents and guardians of students.

Schools in the districts have defied reform, thanks in large part to an entrenched system — solidified by the teachers contract — that denies principals the power that charter leaders have to demand excellence from their instructors.

True education reform will arrive only when school leaders have the freedom to build their staffs, reject mediocrity and then be held accountable themselves.

Allowing parents to spurn bad schools should be an important step in that direction.


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