In the July 1 article titled “School board juggles short-term solutions for decades-old problems in Charleston County,” reporter Jenna Schiferl accurately reported the view I expressed to the school board regarding school choice. Thetyka Robinson and I were speaking on behalf of the North Charleston parents and caregivers we were there to represent and their view of the school choice policy and its negative effects.
As it happens, their views aligned with the findings of the three other Mission Critical groups, namely that school choice is a significant contributor to the resegregation and underfunding of schools. Neither they nor we would argue, however, that school choice should be eliminated.
Choice is not the problem, nor is it the root cause.
There is little doubt that school choice as a Charleston County School District policy has been a lifeline for thousands of families to secure a better education for their children by moving them to better schools. In so doing, it has left behind families without transportation and students in half-filled and under-resourced schools. Per-pupil expenditures published for these schools may seem to say otherwise, but those figures are inflated by the cost of unused overhead, which may be real money to the district but is of no benefit to the pupil.
So, if eliminating choice is not a solution, then what is?
The parents and families who expressed themselves in Mission Critical groups were, we thought, quite clear on what needs to happen next, and that is that every neighborhood school needs to be a great school. While additional mental health supports and cultural-competence training also are necessary, it is not clear that significant additional resources are required, so much as the more equitable and effective distribution of the resources we have.
A world-class principal costs little more than an untrained one, and a highly qualified teacher nearly the same as a beginner. Parents and families want these educators in the most challenging schools and in North Charleston, where there are eight of nine schools in the district identified as “failing.” Too many resource decisions are bound up in district practice, state restrictions and per-pupil “equality” that prevent them from serving those schools and students with the greatest need.
While wary of the school district’s decision-making processes, parents and community members expressed openness to the idea that consolidating small schools and inviting more partners, like Meeting Street and effective third-party operators, should be considered as long as the neighborhoods affected are involved in the decision.
The school board and Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait appear ready to shoulder this responsibility for the practices and funding where they have discretion. They know, as do we, that the system needs to change if great teachers and principals are to be drawn to and remain in these schools.
To be sure, great schools in and of themselves will not address segregation, but they will address the inequity of what we have now and quite possibly turn choice on its head, by delivering school choice options for a high-quality integrated education accessible to everyone.
John C. Read is the chief executive officer of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative.