School Choice & Charters Opinion

What’s Good for Rich Kids Is Good for Poor Ones, Too

By Deborah Meier — June 05, 2014 3 min read
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Deborah Meier writes again to Mike Klonsky today. She will post again next week on her summer reading recommendations before starting the blog’s summer break.

Dear Mike,

It is galling when rich people in the ed policy field tell me that class size doesn’t matter—and pay a lot to send their kids to schools with half as many students per class as urban schools. And city schools in fact generally have larger class sizes than “upstate” or “downstate” schools. Here, again, “urban” is a euphemism for you know who.

Ditto for arts, etc. You’ve spelled it out so clearly. As I told my 1949 high school graduation class (a NYC independent school) the other night (65th reunion), I mostly discovered that for starters I should try to duplicate the school I went to. And it works—for “those kids,” too.

Of course, we improved on it, in part to adapt to our “audience” (students, community, and families), and in part because we had to think about some of the advantages that my peers had access to from their family connections. We did a lot extra to connect kids to other adults—above and beyond the school or family—who could be a networker for them, as well as providing a look into how the other half lives. But these wouldn’t have been bad ideas for my own high school either, and I notice they are doing more of this now also. The “other half” may be a bit different for the students in the two schools.

So actually every child in America should have access to the wealth of talent and experience offered in elite private schools, PLUS ... for after school, weekend, and summer enrichment.

And even then it wouldn’t be a level playing field. Just watch all the ways I advantage my four grandchildren: introductions to interesting friends and potential allies and employers, trips with me around the world, just to mention a few. Not to mention the impact of poorer health, more crowded living, more polluted neighborhoods, more reasonable fear of crime, etc, etc.

Like you, Mike, I was disappointed, to put it mildly, by the Working Families Party decision to support New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If there was a chance that he’d live up to the commitments they claim he made I can possibly understand the logic. But we know, and were pretty quickly confirmed in this belief, that he has no intentions of reversing his direction. And his scandalous demand that New York City give free space to charters—the more, the merrier—while other schools are over-crowded and when the new PreKs are going to be seeking space, is outrageous. Yes, New Orleans reminds us of what the future might look like.

They are killing two birds with one stone: public schooling and the teachers’ unions. And making some of their allies rich in the process—and unaccountably so.

Enough gloomy talk. There have been victories: even if there will be some backsliding (e.g. Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s deal with Cuomo to get the WFP support). But there is a new generation of leadership arising in our unions (public and private) and some serious challenges and victories in mayoral elections, etc. The future is not yet written ...

I’m still puzzled at how we can be fooled by the argument that education is the way out of poverty. First of all, it’s a myth that it was for prior poor populations. Almost all made it out of poverty economically first. Education came later. (Colin Greer alerted me to this many, many years ago in a book entitled The Great School Legend.) At a time when students with BAs are taking jobs that were formerly accessible to high school graduates. And at lower wages to boot, it seems a peculiarly unrealistic hope or theory. But having a good education is a good idea regardless—because it will perhaps help us find better ways of living together on this planet if we know a bit more about ourselves, our neighbors, and the planet.

I’m hoping that Education Week will let me postpone my reading suggestions until next Tuesday, when I’ll say goodbye for the summer.


Editor’s note: Education Week will, of course, let Deborah postpone her summer reading suggestions until next week.

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.