Friday, October 14, 2011

On Charter School Admissions

I just read an interesting article in the LA Weekly about preferences for "founding parents" in schools chartered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The article recounts parents who "found" schools several years after they have opened, which was in some cases before these "founders" had ever heard of the schools in question.

According to The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which is what I use on a daily basis for defining standard English, to found means to "establish", which could be construed by the underhanded in an equally ambiguous way, or "to plan and begin the building of (a settlement)". In this latter, common sense, schools can't be founded again and again, year after year, by new groups of people.

But this raises the larger, more interesting question of how admissions to charter schools ought to be handled. UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child offers a first principle: such rights "are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability and therefore apply to every human being everywhere." Offering certain families preferential "founding" status as described in the article discriminates on the basis of wealth, and therefore violates the rights of children and should be forbidden.

But a deep irony is that, because of the obstructionism, dishonesty, and incompetence of charter offices like that of L.A. Unified, some schools with high ideals may be tempted to become private, and therefore need to charge tuition and engage in this very same discrimination they have tried so valiantly to avoid, in order to prove themselves and eventually establish the bargaining position necessary to achieve their original visions.

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