Having taught in the Charter School system for several years, I bristle at the idea of school choice. Because it isn’t choice. It’s sleight of hand.

The public schools are handicapped, yes, but not by unions so much as state and federal requirements which restrict local responses to problems.The worst, of course, is standardized testing which makes graduation more difficult with every new iteration and which doesn't demonstrate student competencies. What it does do is drive an achievement wedge between well-funded and poorly funded schools.

Nor are the tests necessarily measures of achievement in the workforce or college. I was once one of the teachers consulted on the reading and writing competencies for the Texas tests. Every teacher present commented that many of the questions focused on material more appropriate to graduate school. Our concerns were ignored.

Schools in poorer communities suffer because parents are too busy working to devote the attention to their children’s education that more affluent families provide.

In both cases, removing funds from the public school increases the achievement divide. Nor do parents in at-risk schools fare better because the money they can bring to the table can’t match the additional money that wealthier families can. Poorer families are still forced to enroll their students in schools with lower fees, less revenue and less access to necessary resources.

And while unions do occasionally shelter teachers who we would do better without, more often than not they protect good teachers from widely differing and arbitrary administrative demands. They also protect pay. Teachers in unionized schools fare better economically than underpaid, and often under-qualified teachers in community and charter schools.

Finally, statistics show that private and charters schools lack proper oversight. Many failing schools continue to receive funding where public schools with pressure to stay open do not.

If the politicians who want school choice would be willing to consider methods to equalize funding and allow school districts more flexibility in determining student accomplishments, funding to help poorer schools devise methods for involving parents and communities, we wouldn’t need to shop for schools.

Choice is an illusion. As poor parents know to well, the choice between grade D and grade C chuck roast is a choice, but it’s a joke compared to the choice between grade C, grade A, sirloin and prime rib that wealthier families have.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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