It doesn't get much plainer than this. The headline of the New York Chalkbeat piece is "Hoping to attract gentrifiers, a troubled school gets a makeover and new admissions policy."
The story is about Satellite West Middle School, a school redesigned to focus on science and art, renamed the Dock Street School for STEAM Studies. And it addresses this question posed by Patrick Wall in the article: How can middle-class families in gentrifying areas be convinced to send
their children to local schools with less-than-stellar reputations?
Because District 13 runs on choice (parents can apply to any middle school), Dock Street must find a way to appeal to the now-increasingly-upscale parents in its community. And that means being more careful about who, exactly, they let in. Not just improving the quality of the education offered by the school, but by screening admissions. By making sure that only the Right Children get in.
It is an understandable dilemma for parents, and I'm never willing to say to a parent, "Look, you should put political and philosophical concerns ahead of your own child's concerns."
But the new development underlines two big lies about the value and benefits of charters to a city's education system.
First, it shows, once again, the one real trick that charter operators know and which some public systems have learned to adopt-- to get a better school, you need to swap out your old students for "better" ones. When a charter or turnaround specialist or state takeover district manages to improve a school with exactly the same student population that was there when the school was deemed "failing" in the first place, that will be noteworthy. But mostly they do what Dock Street is doing-- bar the door and only let in those students who will improve the school. That's exactly what Cris Barbic learned just before he gave up on Tennessee's state takeover district.
That's great for the school, and good for the newly acquired batch of students, but it still leaves a whole bunch of students in the wind, without a school intent on educating them.
Second, it shows that the power of charters and choice to "free" students from their zip code is an illusion. Charter fans will argue that wealthier parents exercise choice by sorting themselves into better neighborhoods, that housing choice is a version of school choice. So, the theory goes, we mix that up by allowing people to school outside their neighborhood. School choice can overcome the effects of real estate choice.
But there are two things going on at Dock Street. One is that school choice is struggling to keep up with real estate choice-- that affluent parents are moving into a gentrifying neighborhood and they want nicer schools to match. School choice as it emerges in District 13 is not about escaping real estate choice, but about keeping pace with it, reinforcing it.
Given the choice, parents want to make school choices that match their real estate choice, not override it.
While Dock Street plans to strive for greater diversity, [redesign team member Cynthia] McKnight
said, many parents also made clear that they would not consider the
school if it continued to admit any student who applied.
“A lot of parents wouldn’t send their children here if they didn’t have a screen,” she said.
More affluent people don't want to live next door to Those People, and they don't want to send their kids to school with Those Peoples' Kids. Uncoupling choice of school from choice of neighborhood just requires parents to make those two choices separately, but the notion that charter-choice systems somehow erase the class and race segregation effects of real estate-- well, that just doesn't seem to be how it works.
In fact, those non-gentry who still live in the neighborhood, who haven't been pushed out yet, now get to see their children pushed out of their neighborhood school because they just aren't the Right Sort of People.
Meanwhile, Those People and their children are pushed out of another neighborhood, and those that stick around are pushed out of their neighborhood school. And another choice system ends up pushing Those Peoples' Kids around like so many low-income hot potatoes.This is no way to run a public school system.