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False choices vs. real choices

Aug. 4, 2010 

When school board members Tuesday voted in a straw poll that their highest priority was keeping children close to home and that their last priority was making effective use of buildings and buses, they were of course playing a charade.

After two brutal years of cutting the budget, there is a sense in which the careful use of the almighty dollar is by far their highest priority. And the public may be confident that many of every school board member's constituents will remind them that it must continue to be their highest priority.

But for parents and staff and particularly for children throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, a list that pits maintaining home-school assignments against effective use of buildings is simply not an illuminating exercise. That's because the school system can pursue both of those goals at the same time.

But there are two other priorities that are mutually exclusive. They cannot be pursued effectively at the same time.

And both of them are ostensibly the first priority of this school board.

One is its devotion to assigning children to schools close to their home.

The other is its stated devotion to ensuring superior academic achievement for every child.

So long as the board kowtows to public pressure and allows parents to segregate their children by race and socioeconomics and preparation, the board will fail to meet the demands of the North Carolina Constitution that CMS give every child access to a sound basic education.

The reason CMS will fail has little to do with the children in their charge. It has everything to do with adults.

It is adults who have ordained that the highest-needs children be lumped together, where their needs overwhelm even the most dedicated teachers.

It is adults who think so little of children, and teachers, that they allow these burnout-prone working conditions to persist.

It is adults who refuse to work in those classrooms.

It is adults who refuse to send their children into those schools and those classrooms.

It is adults who appear now quite prepared to back off the 2002 community commitment to spend additional money on high-needs classrooms. And they may do so in the name of a twisted definition of "equity" that demands an equal dollar investment in every child, irrespective of the child's needs.

It is adults who create the racially and socioeconomicallly segregated neighborhoods that lead to schools of privilege and schools of poverty schools that will almost always work and schools that will almost never work.

It is adults who choose not to confront the reality that failing to educate each and every child to the child's native capacities is costing them bazillions of dollars in higher incarceration costs, higher home insurance bills and higher health insurance premiums.

It is adults who ignore their oft-cherished Golden Rule.

It is adults who blame the children.

So let the school board place priority ratings on a list of two: guaranteed home-school assignments, and pursuing its stated mission of  providing "all students the best education education available anywhere, preparing every student to lead a rich and productive life."

Steve Johnston