Adrienne Perkins, Howard University
Lack of quality schools makes for separate and unequal even now
WASHINGTON – Curtislene Bass, the mother of two, reflects the desperation and determination of millions of African-American parents to ensure their children’s education.
Rather than sending her children to the local public schools in Memphis, Bass registered them into a “better” school by using a family member’s address in
a different part of town. Each weekday, she would drive to her aunt’s house and drop off her son and daughter. They would then take the bus from the local bus stop, as if they lived in the neighborhood.
“I drove an additional 30 minutes in the morning because I did not like my local schools,” Bass said. “Later, I did decide to buy a house and move into a better school district, so that both of my children could have a quality high school education, and it definitely worked.”
More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court found separate schools for blacks and whites were not equal, millions of African-American parents find themselves in a similar place to where they before the court struck down segregated schools in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
While public schools are all supported by public funds, not all are equal, particularly those in African-American neighborhoods.
It is a harsh reality baked into the nation’s public school system, from Seattle to Los Angeles to Miami to New York City. Consequently, in every corner of America, black parents are resorting to legal and illegal options to give their children a decent education.
The most high-profile case of a black parent trying to skirt the system was revealed last month in the nation’s capital last month when Antwan Wilson, chancellor of D.C. public schools, was caught cheating to get his daughter into a better school.
Wilson, working with D.C. Deputy Mayor Jennifer Niles, schemed to have his oldest daughter transfer to a different high school in the middle of the year. Wilson bypassed the D.C. lottery system, approval from the school system’s Board of Ethics, and a regulation he created called the “Discretionary Out of Boundary Transfers Policy.”
The policy was put in place in to prevent government officials from receiving preferential treatment when enrolling their children in school. Wilson and Niles were forced to resign by Mayor Muriel Bowser. Wilson, who received a$146.000 severance package, said he told the mayor that he had transferred his daughters to oje of the city’s most desirable schools in October, four months before Bowser forced him to eesign after the news of the tranasfer became public.
Bryan Hassel, an expert on education issues and author of three books on childhood education and school choice, said at the core of the problem is the lack of quality schools, with the best schools concentrated in affluent neighborhoods.
“About a quarter of students go to the school that they are assigned to,” he said, citing a report from National Center for Education Statistics. “The wealthy have the best shot because they can live where they want, and zip code is still a major correlate of school quality.
“Excellent teachers are distributed differently across schools, dollars are distributed differently across schools, excellent leaders are distributed differently,” he said. “It’s just a huge disparity from one school to another.” h
Thousands of parents in some of the nation’s major cities find that whether their child gets the education is much like gambling. Each year, parents in San Francisco, New York, Washington and other cities pin their hopes that their child will get the best education to a lottery similar to the gambling lotteries found in nearly every state.
Washington’s school system developed a lottery system in which parents can apply for their children to attend a selective high school or a school outside of their “in-boundary school.” Students are then selected at random. In 2016 more than 20,000 families applied for the lottery slots in D.C.., and 70 percent were placed in one of three schools of their choice. In New York, an estimated 65,000 students apply annually for about 13,000 open seats in the city’s charter schools, creating a` citywide “waiting list” of over 50,000 students.
Hassell said that lottery systems would be more effective if they were better targeted.
“I would argue for preferences for the highest need student, so students who have a disability or students who are way behind in school, if those students have the first choice, that would be progressive and beneficial, because often those students have the last choice,” Hassel said.
Desperate parents are also electing to enroll their children in charter schools, some with high levels of success and others that have formed in their first year and offer only a promise of better education.
Currently, there are over three million students enrolled in charter schools nationwide, according to the annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This is over a double increase from the 2006-2007 school year when enrollment was only 1.2 million.
But what happens if a charter school is not available?
Adam McKinnon, a city official in the Atlanta Workforce Development in Atlanta, knows what his parents did. When he was a child, he said, his parents used an address different from his own, so he could attend Sandy Creek High School in Fayette County, Ga. It was a 90-minute round trip commute each weekday.
“There were no charter schools near me, and my mother didn’t feel as if the public school system was adequate enough for my educational abilities,” McKinnon, 23, said. “It was definitely a sacrifice, but looking back, it was worth it. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the fundamental educational training I received in public school.”
Gloria Watts in Atlanta was one the people who allow parents to use their addresses, so that their children can go to a well-performing school.
“I do not regret it and I’m very proud of the students who have used my address, because they’re all doing quite well,” Watt said.