Making Choices on Education
The New York Times is no stranger to frivolous articles that concern only the wealthiest and most privileged, and a recent story on coveted slots at public schools on the Upper West Side is no exception. The report concerns families who base their real estate decisions upon school district—the family highlighted in the article paid $1.975 million for an apartment near P.S. 87—and who, finding that these schools are now overcrowded, are demanding that developers build larger facilities in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, other schools in the same district that include P.S. 87 remain open and have empty seats.
If only most New York City parents had these problems. While stories like this get coverage in major national newspapers, the unequal and inadequate state of public education in the United States today gets little attention. The promise of public education is access to quality teaching and facilities for all. The unremarked-upon status quo for many public schools that are disproportionately located in low-income and minority neighborhoods, however, is that they are underfunded, segregated and overcrowded.
Meanwhile, those stories that do get reported are often only increasingly depressing in nature. Nichols Elementary is the city of Biloxi’s highest ranked school, and lies in a historically black neighborhood with a student population that is 90 percent minority. It is also being closed next month to save the district less than 1 percent of its budget. The school board made its decision with no community input and has long rejected proposals to bus in students from predominantly white and affluent neighborhoods.
There is no excuse for this sort of inequity in school funding, maintenance and construction. Individual schools are not discrete entities whose decisions make only a localized impact. Instead, schools both good and bad are inextricably linked and exist partly because of the other, and it is time that the distribution of resources reflected this reality.