Parents, you can send your kids to charter schools and still be a good person. The same goes for parents who homeschool or send their kids to private schools. The responsible thing to do is to find the situation that works best for your child’s education, then look for ways to make the system better for all children.
I have felt this way for a long time. A year ago I wrote, “[N]o one should judge a mother too harshly for the things she does for her children.”
Recent events have re-focused my attention: the launch of Go Public, a local booster campaign.
Go Public is a collaboration among the 15 independent school districts in Bexar County and presents itself as “a campaign to generate better awareness of the facts about Bexar County’s independent public school districts and the wonderful, life-changing things that happen in our schools every day.”
Go Public touts data about graduation and college enrollment. Similarly, SAISD Foundation Board Chairman Carri Baker Wells, at a re-branding event for Centro San Antonio, recently shared the news that San Antonio ISD’s dropout rate for 2013-14 is likely to drop below 10 percent.
In a recent story on the Rivard Report, “Inner City School Success: San Antonio’s Best-Kept Secret” Director Robert Rivard noted that the audience seemed surprised by this news; I encourage the SAISD Foundation and Go Public to be transparent about how they reached these numbers.
If your children are going to a local public school, and they are happy and thriving and learning there, then I am happy for all of you, and you should stay there. The public school districts in Go Public currently serve most of the schoolchildren in Bexar County, so I welcome news about their successes and improvements. What I don’t like is the undercurrent of shame in the Go Public campaign.
The website invites visitors to sign a Go Public Pledge: “I pledge to Go Public with my love for Bexar County’s public schools.”
I would never ever sign a pledge like that. My top priority is doing what’s best for my kids.
The Go Public campaign doesn’t say it out loud, but implies that parents who choose to opt out of the public school system are somehow harming the system and the community.
Back in August, Slate published an article that put the shame factor front-and-center: “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person”, by Allison Benedikt. The title pretty much says it all. Andrew Sullivan’s blog, Dish, has excerpts of various indignant responses: “Private Schools Aren’t The Problem”, by Patrick Appel for example.
The best rebuttal I’ve read is “If You Think Giving a Child Poorer Options is Good for All Children, You Are a Bad Person: Not Actually a Manifesto,” by Kate Clancy, Context and Variation (Scientific American), September 4, 2013. Clancy raves about her daughter’s Reggio Emilia-based, university-affiliated private school. Clancy sees herself as her daughter’s caretaker:
That is why this value judgment about public versus private education, a thinly veiled iteration of the Mommy Wars, is wrong. Children can’t give consent, they live their lives at the whims of their caretakers. One of the reasons kids often develop picky eating habits, or push back on bedtime, or misbehave at school comes from their trying to find some way, any way, to get out from under the oppression of being a constant second class citizen. Once you see how the author’s whole argument is that we should improve education at the cost of kids, it becomes ridiculous.
Clancy says our goal should be to “lift up all kids and give them better educational experiences”:
Rather than see my role as my kid’s ambassador as one that puts her in situations for supposed benefit of all kids but not necessarily optimal for her, I would rather make the kid ambassador job easier for all the other parents who want access to the right education for their kids.
Clancy has identified the way forward: helping more parents get informed and get access to the education that suits their kids. By contrast, the Go Public campaign tries to get families to focus only on their local public school district. As I have learned from my own experience, sometimes the local public school is not a good fit, which is why I am homeschooling my son this year, and have applied for enrollment at a charter school for next year. I am my son’s caretaker, and looking out for him is my responsibility and my pleasure. Parents should not feel shame about looking at alternatives to their local public school.
There’s another aspect to the Go Public campaign: it encourages parents to settle for the school they live closest to. I am aware that my family and I have certain advantages. In 2011, my family moved from a rental in San Antonio ISD to a house we bought in Alamo Heights ISD. When things went sideways for my son at public school, I was able to keep working while homeschooling because I have specialized training—I’m an attorney—and I have a strong family support network. I could choose to go back to work full time and pay private school tuition, like many of our former neighbors in Monte Vista, and some of our neighbors in Alamo Heights, too.
What about the families who can’t afford to buy a house in a different neighborhood, or pay private school tuition? Tuition-free, open-enrollment public charter schools may be the best hope for those families to get their kids into college. The Go Public campaign is hurting needy families if it discourages them from applying to public charter schools. As Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said at the BASIS San Antonio dedication ceremony, “Your zip code should not decide your fate.”
If the Go Public campaign stifles the flow of information about school choice and traps some low-income families in underperforming schools, then it is not serving the public good.
There is a growing community of families and supporters in San Antonio who believe that the rapid expansion of charter schools offers the best chance to help the most kids get ready for college and the careers of the future. Expanding school choice options for families does not hurt existing public school districts; on the contrary, the schools of choice may introduce new ideas to the community and spur improvements at existing schools. I believe that by spreading the word about charter schools and other education choices, I am helping families and improving the system as a whole. There are lots of other ways to help, and I encourage everyone to work together to lift up all families.
Parents, please don’t sign any pledges that limit your ability to be the best possible caretaker for your kids. Instead, educate yourself about the wide range of education options available to your family: public school districts, public charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, and more. Choose the situation that will give your kids the best possible education, and don’t feel ashamed about it.
Inga Munsinger Cotton is a mom, a lawyer, and a geek. She blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms, a resource for parents who want to learn more about charter schools and get involved in education reform locally. You can follow her writing on Facebook at SACharterMoms, on Twitter at @SACharterMoms, and on Pinterest at sachartermoms.