The NYT just published an article on NYC’s school choice system.
The article is worth reading for its qualitative insights into what it’s like to navigate the system. I have deep empathy for families that struggle to find great schools for their children. They deserve much better.
But the framing of the piece is flawed, and I hope other journalists don’t repeat this mistake in future articles.
The authors argue that school choice has not delivered on its promise because many students still don’t have access to great schools.
But school choice does not increase the supply of great schools; rather, it is a mechanism to allow families to choose from schools that already exist.
School choice is about access and fairness. You can assign families to schools based on their address, or you can try to create more just systems. I strongly believe we should do the latter.
But increasing equity of access will likely not lead to dramatic jumps in quality.
It is only be creating new schools, scaling the best schools, and improving existing schools that quality increases. This is not the job of a citywide enrollment system.
Moreover, if you increase access but restrict supply you well get frustration. And this is exactly what has happened in New York City. The city’s enrollment system persists, but its efforts to increase supply have faltered.
When NYC leaders have focused on increasing supply – both through the small schools movement and growing the charter sector – rigorous research found that school quality increased. The results of these efforts are detailed below.
School choice is all about equity in access.
School supply is about creating better options.
We should not confuse the two, and we should not expect school choice to increase school performance in and of itself. It must be coupled with a deep focus on school supply.