The Post and Courier's recent series on the unintended consequences of school choice within the Charleston County School District has been both excellent and heartbreaking. In short, the five-part series has detailed how school choice has gutted several schools within the city, allowing top students and families to transfer to other schools within the district and leaving less fortunate, and often poorer students, behind. The result has been the emergence of several sparsely attended, disproportionately lower-income student populations in schools that continue to be at risk or failing.
The irony is that many of these students attend large, newly built modern facilities, paid for with one-cent sales tax proceeds, while the majority of parents do not want to send their children there. The series details how these schools have been the default educational institutions for the area's poorest minority students, many from public housing, who have otherwise been left behind.
While school choice has been heralded as a policy which gives greater options to parents within the district, the P&C series makes it clear that the result has been a detrimental resegregation of Charleston County students. The resegregation has hit the poorest black children and families the hardest, leaving them trapped in a failing system if they do not qualify or are otherwise unable to transfer to other schools outside of their neighborhoods.
An example cited in the series is Burke High School, which has a 98 percent black student population despite the fact that the area in which it is located is 71 percent white. School enrollment has dropped to just over 400 students, even though the facility has the capacity to enroll several hundreds more. This low-water mark comes after the school once enrolled as many as 1,700 students less than 25 years ago, prior to the full enactment of the school choice agenda. Contrast those attendance numbers to Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, which enrolls over 3,000 students and is severely over-crowded.
The easily identifiable problem is that school district policy and the school choice agenda have enabled parents to self-direct child attendance to the detriment of the student population as a whole. While school choice has been fabulous for the highest achieving students and motivated parents, enabling them to have excellent educational opportunities and resources, it has been the opposite for those whom the system leaves behind. The concentration of poorer and poorer performing students in certain schools, rather than having those students equally distributed throughout the school system, has helped perpetuate the at-risk and failing school problems which administrators are unable to correct. If those poorer performing students were able to attend school with their higher-performing counterparts, the strong likelihood is that they would benefit from being in that peer group as opposed to being lumped together with other poorly performing students. The problem is that many parents may not want their children to attend school with poorly performing students for fear that the opposite will occur, and that those students will slow down the educational progress for their children.
Meeting Street Academy, a charter school that caters to primarily minority students from lower-income families, is one example proving that low-income and low-academic performance do not have to be synonymous. Despite catering to a mostly African-American student base from the same geographic areas as the failing schools highlighted in The Post and Courier series, the students have consistently performed at the top of the state in standardized tests and overall academic performance. The school district has also shown in a pilot program that this model can be incorporated into other public schools.
The recent series highlighted a very serious disparity within our public school system which needs to be corrected to the benefit of all students. Hopefully, this insightful series will lead to changes in the system for the better.