The Help and School

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I was talking with the Help about a GGW post that I commented on about charter schools and asked him if I could tell his story. The crime took place about 25 years ago so I guess it is safe to talk about since one of the responsible parties are dead and the other is ill. The crime was lying about the Help family address so the Help could go to a 'better' school.

In arguments about school choice, charters, and DC Public schools there is this strain of belief that middle class parents must/will leave their kids in DCPS so DCPS will get better. There just needs to be enough middle class and or motivated and dedicated parents to turn a school and a school system around. However, parents can be selfish and only thinking about their own kids and not the city's children as the case with my in-laws have proven.

The Help grew up in the Silicon Valley area, before Silicon Valley was super high tech and what not, in a middle classish neighborhood. His mom was an elementary school teacher and his dad a lineman at the GE factory. When it came time for the Help to go high school, his parents used their friends' address to get him into Santa Teresa High* and avoid Thomas Madison*, which according to the Help was a drug and gang infested school. Kevin, the Help's next door neighbor of the same age, moved several blocks away into Oakdale High's* boundary.

When my in-laws chose Santa Teresa over Thomas Madison they weren't thinking academics, which is a topic often brought up in comparing DCPS and DC charters. Academics were the furthest from their minds, they were very concerned about safety. Little good that did, because the Help got punched in the nose by a bully and still bears the scar from that today. Except for that and other things related to living a lie about your address, he had a decent high school experience and was able to get into the University of California system.

When we went back to Silicon Valley to visit family, we took the pastor who married us out to lunch. Apparently Santa Teresa or Oakdale (I don't remember) is heading downward and the pastor and his family are moving to get into a better school. Better, still meaning not drug and gang infested, not necessarily better academically.

Studies showing that charter schools are not always academically superior, or citing that there is an unfair advantage charters have or whatnot, is not as meaningful when the parent measures the desirability of a school by other values. In the case of my in-laws it was safety. In the case of some friends it was finding an environment where their child flourished emotionally.

My point is policy people will advocate what is best for their policy and most parents will do what they believe is best for their children. If that means moving, they will move, and lots do. If that means trying other options, like breaking the law and lying about where they really live, they'll do that too. Well that would explain all the Maryland license plates I see in front of one DC charter school.


*The names of the school have been slightly changed.

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