No Choice

If choice is the only choice is it still choice?

C-300Today we turn to one of the most baffling conundrums of these fiercely urgent days. If school choice is indeed the civil rights issue of our time, why do its chosen beneficiaries so rarely get to exercise any choice about choosing it? Alas reader, we are left with no choice. To the choice mobile, and make it snappy! We’re headed to Camden, New Jersey, where school choice is on its way, whether people there choose to choose it or not.

desertThe people’s choice
Our journey begins just over a year ago with the choice of a new leader to run the Camden Public Schools
Paymon Rouhanifard, nee Goldman Sachs, was the people’s choice. No silly, not the people of Camden themselves, who were given no choice in the matter thanks to the choice-free combo of a state-appointed superintendent and an appointed school board. I’m talking about the other people—the unlikely coalition of elites, both near and far, who have decided that Camden’s children, long last by almost every conceivable measure of wellbeing, must at last be put first. Or something like that.

Camden waterfrontA divine choice
Still, the People’s Choice had his work cut out for him. With no formal way for Camden parents to express their choice for the future of the city’s schools, PR had no choice but to attempt to divine their choice. But how? Given Camden’s proximity to the water, an extraneous detail that has nothing to do with this particular story, an old-fashioned divining rod was out. Which left PR with no alternative but to try to intuit the people’s choice, which PR quickly intuited was choice. And while the people may not have actually said that they wanted choice when they had the opportunity to speak, at school board meetings or on PR’s *listening tour,* it turned out that choice was the only choice on offer. 

choiceHope and choice
Do you know what’s even better than choice? Lots and lots of choice, served up super fast. In fact, to give the people of Camden all of the choice they will now have no choice but to choose, some complicated legal maneuverings were necessary. Thanks to a one year extension of the Urban Hope Act, both the letters and the intent of which have apparently been rearranged to spell *choice,* charter school chains including Mastery, KIPP and Uncommon, will be able to open as many as 15 new schools in Camden, beginning this fall. The choice of the new charter chain schools is expected to replace the choice of the old district schools and the choice of many of the city’s existing charter choices. New choice, by the way, seems to mean just one choiceinterchangeable *no excuses* charter schools. In other words, it’s possible that choice may actually end up providing Camden parents with less choice

And finally, the voice of an actual parent
What do parents in Camden think of all of the choices they will soon have no choice but to choose? I decided to call one on the phone and ask her myself. Carmen Crespo, whose three children attend Camden Public Schools, was a regular presence at school board meetings throughout the spring. *As a parent, I say a lot, but I’m not listened to,* she told me, explaining that she thinks Camden parents are widely viewed as being incapable of making decisions on matters as important as what kind of schools they want for their kids. Crespo describes herself as a passionate parent who was spurred to get more involved as the debate over the future of Camden’s schools heated up, and teacher layoffs and cutbacks began to hit her kids’ schools. I listened to Carmen. In fact, everyone should listen to Carmen, which is why I’m giving you no choice but to listen to her too. Carmen: the rest of this post is yours. Take it away…
I’d like to know that too.

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  1. We in NJ have been fighting this on every conceivable level. Those in the city and outside the city have been using social media to spread the word. My page is full of our voices straining to get out. We are not running for office because we want fortune or fame. It is the conversations not being heard that drives us. If we continue to just complain without action NOTHING will change. Money and power has ground the spirit of an entire city to dust and our tears have made us hardened. Though we may be a thin layer standing between them and our kids we are there. Our official testimony in the State Legislature outlined these problems and they refuse to help us. They actually changed the LAW. What state writes law for a single city? Billions of NJ education money is missing they all know it. They fear the world will soon know it as well. One who controls the media does not control the truth. It is out there if one looks. In this case it is not hard to find. We know it may cost us our lives, livelihoods, or both but we will not give up. Our kids deserve a chance. Just as our parents and grandparents fought for us we fight. Democracy is the only chance any of us have. It has never been without a cost.

  2. When I desperately needed additional options for my son it was really one of the most depressing and heartbreaking situations I had ever faced. I was used to accepting less in life for myself, but when it came to my firstborn it really tore me up.

    Luckily, after a lot of leg work and asking questions of better resourced people I found the right schools. It made a huge difference.

    Sad to read this article because it wasn’t a funny situation to be in. Seems like only privileged people would find this laughable.

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