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Charting an Escape Route for Washington’s 14,000 School Dropouts is in Voters’ Hands

Nov 2, 2012 | Featured, News, Opinion

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda is a thoughtful man with a personal narrative indicative of the ways educational inequalities challenge American dreams of careers and economic stability.

I suspect Banda believed he was being reasonable Thursday asking voters to put dreams of charter schools aside until traditional publics have had a chance to fix the problems that make a quality education often dependent upon zip code. …

But as Martin Luther King, Jr wrote decades ago from a Birmingham jail cell, when it comes to civil rights – and education is one – ‘wait’ has almost always meant “never.”

Countering Banda’s counsel to “wait” is State Rep. Eric Pettigrew who represents a district where schoolkids have been waiting a long time.

We can’t wait because we did not recently stumble upon the constraints and inequalities strangling the dreams of so many schoolchildren. They’ve been there and trust is shrinking that they’ll be addressed in Pettigrew’s lifetime. Over the years, parents who could voted with their feet, a reason private schools endured the recession largely unaffected. A sadder way of voting with their feet were the 14,000 Washington state students who dropped out of high school last year. Expect a similar number this year.

Educator and writer Pedro Noguera, who writes the Bridging Differences blog in Education Week magazine, was in Seattle last week and his latest blog post nails perfectly Seattle’s angst over charters. Note: Noguera does not see charters as public education’s salvation or its downfall making his words all the more compelling.

He wrote: “I find it ironic and hypocritical that the opponents of charter schools don’t voice much objection to the loss of affluent children to private schools. Moreover, there are selective public schools that are limited to so-called gifted children (typically the most privileged) and concentrate the neediest children in under-resourced schools. Why do you think so little concern is expressed about the effect these schools have upon public education? Clearly, private schools and screen schools are exacerbating efforts to promote integration and equity in public schools, but I hear so little from the opponents of charters about these issues.”

Noguera is right. Indeed, Seattle’s biggest charter opponents have long relied on well-resourced schools in North End neighborhoods or charter-like alternative schools for their own children. And no surprise, Seattle’s private school enrollment remains steady.

Expect nothing to change until you change it.