School choice isn’t new, white parents have been using it for decades

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I was secretly thrilled when Betsy Devos was nominated for Secretary of Education.

Not because I was thrilled with her as in charge of America’s schools, but because finally, so many of my friends seemed to care as much about public education as I did.

I have been writing publicly about education for about five years, and had taught in public schools for four years before that.

{mosads}Finally, Facebook was filled with calls from both sides of the aisle, to reject this woman and her ideas, and fight for equality in education for all. We lost the Betsy Devos nomination battle, and I am far less hopeful than I was a few months ago about how much people want equality in education in my city The loud and vocal public outcry that I was so encouraged by has died down. 


In place of the Never DeVos out cry, I see questions about local schools flooding the local mommy Facebook groups. It is school lottery season in Atlanta, and things are getting tense. People want quality education for all kids, but more than that that they want the best for their own babies. And they are happy to sacrifice the neighborhood school for the chance to give their child a leg up.

Competition is exactly how the current educational agenda is sold and far too many middle class parents have bought it.

The system Betsy Devos represents currently uses the rhetoric of competition and choice to claim equality in education, ignoring the fact that these choices are not available to every person within the community, ignoring the fact that setting up education as a competition means that some of our kids have to lose.

No one wants to fail their babies by sending them to a failing school, but the way that most tests are scored (against each other, not against a simple pass fail line) means that someone is guaranteed to fail and those of us parents with the resources to avoid that failing label do whatever it takes to keep our kids safe.

My family chose to reject the label “failing” when it comes to our neighborhood school. Three years ago we sent our daughter to pre-k at the school we had been warned against by well meaning friends who had never actually stepped foot inside the building. We fell in love and have never looked back.

This year both of our girls attend our neighborhood school, despite more prestigious charter options available. The teachers are amazing, the principal is passionate and the breakfast and lunch are free for everyone! As an educator, and as a mother I have been nothing but impressed by this school. The only real problem is I am exhausted defending this school we love on Facebook.

My white middle class neighbors do not want to give this school a chance, and the other neighbors who have chosen alternatives are all too happy to chime in on their concerns for this school that I love that they have never even toured.

When it comes to the rhetoric around public schools, I think those of us with the resources to be able to choose need to think critically about what we are choosing against. When we say a school is “failing” who exactly is it failing?

Study after study tells us that white middle class kids whose parents are even thinking about school choice will be successful regardless of the choice the parents make. What matters is that the parents are engaged in educational decisions. School rating has everything to do with how many poor, kids of color are attending the school and very little to do with anything else. 

When we say a school is not “safe” who are we saying is dangerous, the other children? Elementary school teachers who have chosen to dedicate their lives to teaching children how to read? When questions of safety are brought up around elementary schools, very often the asker is white and middle class, and the school is not.

By unsafe, I think what the questioner means is uncomfortable. I do not think poverty is something I need to shield my children from. I do not think mostly non-white spaces are inherently unsafe.

In fact, with the current demographic trends in the United States I think I am giving my girls a leg up in learning how to function in non-white spaces. They are already better at it than I am.

As a public school mom I have far more sway than I ever did as a public school teacher. So, as a mom I am asking my fellow Devos opposers, won’t you join me? If not as a sold out neighborhood school PTA member, at least give my school a chance. 

Before you tell anyone else it isn’t a choice on Facebook, won’t you let me give you a tour?

Abby Norman is a former teacher and the author of “Consent Based Parenting: How to Raise Children in Charge of Their Own Bodies.” Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @abbynormansays

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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