Last Tuesday, The Post and Courier came through again with another high-quality multi-media display of modern journalism. The splashy, five-part piece entitled “Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice” takes a look at how the policies of school choice have led to schools which are destined to fail as enrollments drop and the students who are left behind have fewer opportunities to shine as the schools shrink and funding decreases.
The series focuses on a handful of North Charleston High School students and their struggles at a school which is increasingly unable to serve their needs, while other students are lucky enough to gain admission to some of the county’s “better” schools. It’s the sort of writing for which The Post and Courier won a Pulitzer Prize last year, and it looks like they are pushing heavily to win another this year, both with this piece and earlier high-profile features.
Of course, the only problem with “Left Behind” is that you can’t really tell if the P&C is serious about reporting on the problems of school choice or if they’re just trying to win another award. After all, the paper has rarely done much in the way of criticizing school choice over the years.
An editorial from last December noted that parents in the Charleston County “fortunately … have far more choices” thanks to the district’s policy of allowing parents to choose what school their child goes to. This line of thinking feeds into that old-fashioned American myth of “freedom of choice,” but as “Left Behind” points out, it also serves to wreck schools in areas the powers-that-be write off.
After all, these aren’t really unintended consequences. School boards know exactly what they’re doing when they tie school funding to performance and then find ways to get the better performing students out of failing schools and into other, better schools. In fact, The Post and Courier itself quoted Vice Chairman Tom Ducker last September calling this phenomenon a “death spiral.” Unintended consequences, indeed.
Still, there are those like former S.C. Superintendent of Schools Jim Rex, who, in a pro-school choice piece published by The Post and Courier, extols school choice as the preferred alternative to private schools. Rex used the odd logic that the school choice system clearly works because Charleston’s own Academic Magnet High School was ranked the top magnet school in the country. What he’s saying is not that the South Carolina public school system overall is great, but that one school in the county did really well nationally because it took children from all over the county and stacked the deck in favor of that school.
However, Rex’s argument is stronger than the one employed by State Treasurer Curtis Loftis. In a 2012 op-ed appearing in The Post and Courier, Loftis sought to explain that not only was school choice good for public school equality, but students leaving public schools for private schools was ultimately better for public education.
Apparently, it took the P&C a few years to catch on to the idea that these pro-choice school choice letters and op-eds they’ve been publishing might not be the best idea in the world.
In fairness to the paper, I will mention that I did manage to find at least one op-ed against school choice; it was written by the Rev. Joseph A. Darby in 2012, and in it, the Charleston NAACP vice-president decried the effects school choice has both on student diversity and the schools left “decimated” by children moving out.
It’s perfectly fine that it took The Post and Courier some time to finally see the truth about school choice and craft a case against it. Opinions and positions change, and in a country where most towns and cities are increasingly served by only one daily newspaper, it’s probably normal to find a paper that changes positions from time to time on an issue. In the meantime, the damage done by years of school choice will be documented by the same paper that did the cheerleading.
Perhaps The Post and Courier will become equally as vocal about, in the words of Rev. Darby, “[making] every public school a quality school, to support public education by enrollment and involvement, and to abandon the decades’ old fight to mask division by race and economic status under the often misleading and dubious veneer of ‘choice.'”
Or perhaps they’ll be content just to tweet the pictures from the next awards ceremony they attend for publishing this piece.