Letters to the Editor: Readers React to MLK Column, College Admissions News, and More

As part of The 74’s mission to lead an honest, fact-based debate about K-12 education, we encourage everyone — from lawmakers to teachers to parents to students — to join our conversation.
This is why we love hearing from our readers, and will regularly publish your input (You can always reach us here). We received a number of letters in recent days that were insightful, provocative and made excellent points. Below are a handful from our inbox. Please keep the feedback coming! (The below letters have been edited for length and clarity)

In response to Derrell Bradford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. column:
I am a white progressive who opposes school choice, but not because I want to preserve the current system, as claimed by Derrell Bradford’s recent article which parallels anti-choice progressives to complacent white moderates in Dr. King’s era. Here’s why:
School choice does not manifest itself in the way advocates like Mr. Bradford claim. First and foremost, true choice can only exist if all schools in a given region offer choice, which is rarely the case. If you cannot choose to send your child to a private school or to the best neighborhood school outside of your own neighborhood, you don’t really have a choice. You have a choice to enter your children into a lottery of the few charter schools that are actually available in your region, but that’s about it. Even then, your chances of getting in may be slim. There’s a reason why charter schools are flooded with low-income minority students and not privileged white students, and that reason is that privileged students actually have a choice, and when given an actual choice, a charter school is not the best option. Instead, they choose their affluent neighborhood school or a private school. Lengthy wait lists and competitive lotteries at charters are not indicative of a disruptive or transformative freedom to choose; they are in fact indicative of limited choice — to put it in Bradford's words, it’s “a system that works if one of these four conditions is met: you’re lucky, you’re well off (or just better off), you’re connected, or you lie (about where you live).”
So now, let’s imagine an ideal system of choice: one where everyone has the right to choose from every school. Take NYC public high schools as an example, one of the only systems (and largest systems) of complete choice that we’ve seen to date. As seen in this study done at NYU, this system develops two groups: choosers and non-choosers. There are those who have the capacity to fully participate in the system of choice, and then, there are those who do not have that capacity due to a variety of factors, be it language, education, access to information, work schedules, or transportation. Even here, in an expanded system of choice, we see the free market working its age-old magic, creating winners and losers, and more disadvantaged students continue to be matched with lower performing schools.
So how do we fix it? Well, if we knew that, it’d be done by now. However, I will say that we need to start by acknowledging that a free, accessible, and decent education is a civil right; it is not a commodity that should be won in a lottery, which I believe Dr. King would agree with. Giving a couple of options to struggling families is not true choice. If anything, saying that all people have “equal choice” is more akin to the Separate but Equal clause of Plessy v. Ferguson that was later struck down in Brown v. Board because, duh, it wasn’t actually equal. Describing “the right to choose” as “so transcendent” and a “great and disruptive force” is a gross exaggeration that will perpetuate a false rhetoric that school choice provides equity of opportunity for students in America. And that, in my opinion, is what is “tragic for us all.”
-Lauren Seymour, New Haven, CT

In response to the article “Why Harvard Is Pushing Elites to Rethink College Admissions”:
Bravo. Your approach to high education admissions is a breath of fresh air. Leveling the playing field by emphasizing connection to community and reality benefits ALL of us. Thank you for focusing on what really matters – social engagement and community service.
-Julie Francis, Glen Ellyn, IL

In response to the investigation “Mississippi’s Horrifying Trend of Punishing Students Through Restraint Could Be Coming to an End”:
Unfortunately, it looks like MDE will not adopt the policy recommended by parents, advocates and legal representatives of students. Those are the constituents who showed up for public hearings and submitted public comments. But we are hearing that behind the scenes the Mississippi School Board Association and the Mississippi Association of School Administrators are having private talks with MDE about revising the policy to allow restraints for destruction of property and refusing to move when asked.  
Now, we were all horrified when the SRO exerted police force when the young lady in South Carolina refused to move, but Mississippi apparently thinks those actions were just fine. Although Gregg Harper, R-MS, was at the forefront of drafting a pro-child federal seclusion/restraint policy, his home state continues to ignore best practices for behavior and academics.  
It is absolutely amazing that Mississippi continues to disregard its history, and repeats the same mistakes, albeit in different formats and arenas. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Legislators fancy themselves as amateur educators, although they have no coursework, degrees or professional licensure in Education. They fail to research best practices, passing laws that are harmful to students while proclaiming their cleverness in the education arena. My mantra to politicians continues to be, "Stop practicing education without a license!" However, you cannot leave education entirely to the educators.  
Even though they can clearly see that Mississippi is still on the bottom, many (not all) prefer to continue practices that have never worked. I call Mississippi's education plan the Insanity Education Plan (Mississippi's IEP) because we keep doing the same thing, expecting different results.  
I am an educator, with a degree and license to prove it. I have worked in the field in Mississippi for 30+ years in a variety of capacities. It is incredibly frustrating to know what needs to happen, to scream this information from the mountaintops, to submit public comments, to contact the Mississippi Department of Education, to contact your Legislators, to write letters to the editor, to give quotes to the largest newspaper in the state, to represent children as an advocate, and watch as Mississippi repeats their mistakes and laments our place on the bottom.
-Danita Munday, Brandon, MS

In response to Kevin Huffman’s essay “How I Tried (and Failed) to Close the Worst School in Tennessee”:
I spent 11 years with K12 before launching my own virtual school consulting firm in 2013, so I had a front-row seat for many school openings.
Much of what Huffman says is true and some of what Kwitowski says is also true.
What matters though is TNVA is not performing academically. And, missing from this rebuttal is the fact that TNVA has been a Level 1 school since its inception, and if it continues to be at that level this year, it faces closure yet again.
-Houston Tucker, Eads, TN

In response to the recent news article “Washington Court Battle: A New Campaign to Reverse Crippling Charter Ruling and Preserve 2015 Funding”:
Dear Editor,
Charter Schools are a choice, something we haven't had before. Before we were stuck with whatever the public schools served up or we had to cough up a lot of money to send out kids to religious schools. I tried to keep my kids out of our public schools because I found them bigoted, failing to give many children a basic unbiased education, and violent. I partially home taught my kids, partially sent them to private schools and only put them in public when I had no choice.  I am not alone in this.
Charter schools give parents and kids a place to go that fits their needs, not the needs of the teacher's union or anyone else. We need Charter schools. Given the poor performance of  Public schools in many areas, they certainly couldn't do worse.
-Judith M. Jones, Spokane, WA
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