Behind the Headline: Public Education’s Weird Ideological Divide

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Public Education’s Weird Ideological Divide
2/6/14 | New York

Behind the Headline
Exam Schools from the Inside
Fall 2012 | Education Next

In response to some recent articles about the growing divide between public schools attended by rich kids and schools attended by poor kids, Jon Chait points out a strange twist in the debate over public education. Writing in New York magazine, Chait notes that in most cities, neighborhood schools are open to children who live close by (meaning rich kids mostly go to school with other rich kids* and poor mostly kids go to school with other poor kids) and restricted to everybody else. Meanwhile, charter schools are open to all children in the city, and their slots are allocated by lottery. Chait continues

Now, if I described these two different methods for dividing up public education slots — either closing off public schools by highly segregated geography, or opening them up to random admission citywide — you’d probably identify neighborhood-based restrictions as the right-wing position and open admissions as the left-wing position. But what we have is the reverse. Moderate liberals and conservatives want to expand and empower the public schools that admit everybody by random lottery. The lefties want to preserve geographic-based restrictions.

Chait goes on to analyze why this is the case.

To add another wrinkle, selective public schools (aka exam schools or magnet schools) are allowed to turn away low-achieving students, yet charter schools, which admit students by lottery, are criticized for “creaming” or enrolling. more than their fair share of highly motivated students. An article in the Fall 2012 issue of Ed Next took a look at exam schools across the country.

-Education Next

*Mike Petrilli wrote about what he called “private public schools” – public schools that serve virtually no poor children – in a blog entry for Ed Next that was based on a Fordham report called America’s Private Public Schools. That report includes a list of “private public schools” by state.

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