What happened to school choice?

I’m told it’s the political power of unions. Makes me wonder about all the good teachers trapped in a system without the power to express or carry out their own ideas.

Dr. John Sparks is concerned, too, and we spoke late last week about the problems. Here’s how he expressed it in his latest column for the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal calls 2011 the “year of school choice.” Parents and the legislators who represent them, particularly in inner-city schools, are tired of waiting for the promised effects of “educational reform” on the public schools their children attend. Therefore, according to the Wall Street Journal, in one form or another, 13 states have passed school-choice legislation, and similar changes are proposed in 28 other states. Such legislation often permits the formation of publicly financed “charter schools,” which are run by new schools boards whose members insist upon an educational environment that will produce real learning.

Despite progress in many places, New York City children, many of them African-American, may not be able to return to charters or start in them anew in the fall due to a lawsuit instituted against the NYC’s Department of Education by what would seem to be a tragically ironic twosome: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

What? That doesn’t make sense. Sparks makes the point, connecting the dots.

One would certainly assume that NYC’s charter program—which would allow parents to withdraw their children from the 22 poor public schools in New York and move them to effective charter or other schools—would be eagerly supported by the NAACP and the UFT. After all, these are schools deemed (by pre-established criteria) to be “failing.” But that is not the case. Why?

Perhaps one could understand the UFT, long an ideological champion of public schools, no matter how poorly they perform, engaging in such a suit, but why the NAACP, in light of its announced commitment to black and Latino youths and their parents? Here is a case where political/ideological dedication to the public-school monopoly is stronger than loyalty to the very people which the NAACP is pledged to help.

Fortunately, NYC parents with children attending or about to enter charter schools in the fall are not committed to this ideological blindness. They simply want the good schooling for their children that educational choice provides, and they are speaking out.

Good for them. In fact, Hooray for them. Outraged parents are telling the UFT their time’s up.

The same could be said to the NAACP. How can an organization supposedly committed to helping blacks and other minority groups climb the educational ladder file a lawsuit to obstruct educational opportunities for what amounts to 7,000 of New York’s most disadvantaged kids? Black parents have a right to be perplexed, frustrated, and outraged by such a stance.

The Economist reports that another parent, Ny Whittaker, whose child attends a Harlem charter school, summarized it well: the “NAACP is on the wrong side of history.”

So is the US Department of Education, at this point. In operation only since 1980, note this part of its original stated mission:

The Department’s mission is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Seriously. Each time I’ve brought that up in an interview, someone inevitably expresses incredulous surprise.

Which makes the case for a movement to respect education and equal access to it as the civil rights issue it is.