January 25, 2006
Trapped in the Wrong Government School
If you're a
public-school student, your chances in life may be largely dependent
on where you live -- not just which country, not just which state,
but which little bureaucratic zone.
In San Jose,
Calif., many parents want to get their kids in Fremont Union schools
because they're so much better than neighboring schools. So parents
sometimes cheat to get their kids in. At least cheating is what
local officials call it. Steve Rowley, district superintendent,
said, "We have maybe hundreds of kids who are here illegally,
under false pretenses."
False pretenses. Sounds like the kids are criminals. All they're
doing is trying to get a good public-school education. Don't the
public schools' defenders insist all children have a right to
a good public-school education?
John Lozano goes door to door to check if kids really live where
they say they do.
At one house,
a mother and daughter answer the door, so Lozano sees that the
daughter is there, but he still tells them that he needs to look
inside the house to make sure. The school district police can
go into your daughter's bedroom, even go through drawers and closets.
"Well," he said, "we have a computer, we have some
'Seventeen' magazines. We have pictures of the student and her
friends on the wall."
So she passed
he went an address listed by Esterlita Tapang, whose grandson
attends a Fremont Union high school. He told the man who answered
the door, "She said she lives here and her grandson is going
to live here so he can go to the high school." The man shook
his head and said she didn't live there. "Caught," Lozano
told us. "She's definitely caught!"
Tapang broke the rules. The rules said her grandson, because of
where he lived, wasn't entitled to the quality education Fremont
Union schools provide. But which is worse: a system that traps
students in bad schools, or a grandmother who lies to save her
grandson from being denied a decent education? I asked her, "Isn't
it creepy that they force you to go to the black market to get
your kid a better education?"
it was. "I was crying in front of this 14-year-old,"
said the grandmother. "Why can't they just let parents get
in the school of their choice?"
they? Changing schools can change a child's life. In Florida,
Patty Bower's kids were stuck in a school that wasn't teaching
them. But then they got vouchers, which let them attend a private
school that works with kids who have special needs.
has been brought up four grade levels in reading," Bowers
said. "He's gone from C's, and D's to being an honor roll
student." But the Florida Supreme Court this month killed
a similar choice program, and Patty fears her kids will soon be
forced back into public school. "If they take the McKay scholarship
away, I don't think -- I'm sorry. I don't think Joey will finish
she choose her child's school? Most countries that beat America
on international tests give their students that choice. In Belgium,
the government spends less than American schools do on each student,
but the money is attached to the kids. So they can go wherever
they want -- to a state-run school, a Montessori school, or even
a religious school.
wouldn't send my child to an American public school," said
Maria Loth. "Not even for a million dollars."
lives in Belgium now, but when he was 6, his family lived in America.
"In America, I had to beg, please, please give me good school
for my child. And here in Belgium, they're all over the place."
In public education, our land of the free is now a bunch of local
fiefs, where petty-bureaucrats-turned-lords-of-the-manor decide
whether you can get a decent education, and parents must go to
them, begging for their children's future. Meanwhile, in Belgium
and much of the rest of the world, students and their parents
have the freedom to choose their schools -- and the opportunity
that comes with that freedom.
JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators Syndicate