|Charter Schools and Bias|
|Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor|
Does Aventura’s charter school success really translate to “public” success?
Well, I suspect you know that yours truly is on the…er…Spit List of the charter school people. Back when I got to cast votes as a member of the Aventura City Council (motto: “We table more bills than Barrio Latino bills tables”), I cast the lone vote against setting up a charter school in Aventura for middle school grades. Until then, all we had was elementary, my dear Watson, but the question of ratcheting it up a grade or three struck me as problematic.
I was panned for that vote; personally, I thought the critics were raving. But I was marked as an out-of-touch radical who was still locked in to outdated ideas from the 1960s, oblivious to the news that the world had moved on.
Naturally, anyone who says “nay” risks being labeled a naysayer. In fact, that charter middle school has since done “very well,” a result that has been used to bolster retroactively the grumblings against my position. Until you vote, they blandish you with arguments; but once you vote, they brandish them as weapons! With even my outlier vote opposing the middle school apparently discredited, the charter school movement marches on in Aventura unimpeded.
The next frontier, with the elementary and middle schools well established, is to build a high school. A piece of property -- a parcel, insiders like to call these things -- has already been purchased near the park on NE 215th Street, and the project is rumbling down the track. Maybe it’s not quite full speed ahead, but certainly it has enough momentum to reach its destination.
The council no longer needs my vote in any capacity, at least, than as private citizen. Still, the activists (all the same people, albeit much older now) and my colleagues of yore all turn to me for moral support. They want me to accept (“It’s a fact, Jay”) that the middle school history (“Water under the bridge, Jay”) and its track record (“Objective reality, Jay”) have proved (“QED, Jay -- you took logic in college”) that my fears (“You can’t be scared of your own shadow, Jay”) back then (“Ancient history, Jay”) were unfounded.
Once I accept that premise, what could possibly keep me from jumping aboard the bandwagon?
So at the risk of being called a lot of unpleasant names, the cleanest of which is likely to be “obstructionist,” I must say that not only do I hold the same position today, but I think I was right back then.
Furthermore, I am not sold on the notion that the middle school itself is a success story. Oh, sure, it’s doing a good job educationally, and it is kept spiffy clean and well maintained. But how should we define success in a public school? Well, for one thing, it should mean public success.
Here is my thought: Granted, we don’t do busing anymore to try to artificially graft minority communities into the body politic of more prosperous neighborhoods. But neither should we be pursuing a policy that achieves the outcomes of segregation by other means. We risk creating (and some argue it has been created already) a setup in which not only are public schools failing to produce a level playing field in American society, but they are actually causing the tilt. And another word for tilt is…bias. (Not that we are accusing anyone of anything.)
Think about it. The whites move to suburbs, leaving the minorities in inner cities. The public school system entitles every citizen to an education close to home. Suburban people are people, too. So we wind up with urban schools and suburban schools. Over time, sorry to say, that really begins to look like minority schools and white schools, which is what the civil rights marches were about in the first place.
Now, you and I both know that most people moving to suburbs are not racists, they have no ill will, and they are just looking to improve their lives. But a tacit part of moving to better areas is the notion that you get to be around a “better” sort of people. People like you who are accomplished, who have worked hard, and who have a strong sense of culture and ethos built around education, determination, ambition, and perseverance.
But the danger is that people of good will can wind up in the castle, filling up the moat with deep, muddy water and alligators. Suddenly you find yourself part of the problem, instead of part of the solution.
It is not enough to say “I am not a racist.” Part of acting in good faith as a member of the larger society is to be sure that I am not acting to reinforce activities or institutions that will serve to hold others back, to close their doors of opportunity.
And as painful as this self-examination may be, the conclusion strikes me as inescapable. Any setup that raises the bar for entry into our area schools is excluding people who are at the borderline, whose lives could be saved by being in a suburban school, rather than an urban school. That is a stark reality, one I believe to be true. (I mean saving their lives by better education and better development of their humanity, but it probably saves a few lives from drugs and violence, as well.)
Again, I am not advocating for wildly impractical, utopian schemes to merge the penthouse with the ghetto and create total equality. There is a beauty to that, but there is also a tendency that the mix destroys excellence at the top more than it promotes it at the bottom.
Yet there is a sweet spot of people who are within range of growth and advancement, whose families are not destructive, just without the resources to be fully supportive.
Anyone who lives and works in Aventura knows doctors and lawyers and bankers who had to claw their way out of the inner city to get here. Our schools are the drawbridge. As long as we are helping others without hurting ourselves, we should be doing it.
Granted, this problem is bigger than just Aventura, and we do not have the tools to fix the whole nation, or even the county. But we can try to do the right thing in the small area we influence -- and occasionally control -- and be a beacon of light to others. They can choose to follow us if they are so inspired.
I can’t help feeling that the expansion of charter schooling in Aventura is pulling up a drawbridge. I vote “nay” again!
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
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