Another View: School choice doesn’t solve poverty

Ben Boychuk trumpets school choice, but at the same time, he ignores that a majority of kids in U.S. public schools live in poverty.

The problem festers in California, where 51 percent of public school students are poor, versus a national average of 55 percent in 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Boychuk sidesteps such social conditions (“In California, school choice is sorely lacking,” Viewpoints, Jan. 23). He proposes a policy solution of “more learning options” in California. Consumers hold the key, and their sovereignty is almighty, from coffee to schools, he writes. His is a tortured analogy.

Boychuk insists the main flaw in public education is a deficit of school choices, not poverty-stricken students, which public schools do not cause but must try to educate.

His reasoning reads a little like something from the pen of Jonathan Swift. Yes, satire has its place. It is a literary technique of no small import for writers to deliver lasting insights to readers.

Yet education policy proposals such as Boychuk’s, which legitimize false solutions to pressing social problems, distract policymakers and the public from the actual challenges in classrooms up and down the Golden State, and across the United States.

A discussion of poverty among public school students that begins and ends with school choice is limited in the extreme. It ignores the sharp rise of income and wealth inequality in the U.S. since the end of postwar prosperity. Public schools are not set up to deal with the precarious living and working conditions of students and their parents. This trend has concrete causes (busting private-sector labor unions) and effects (booming income and wealth gaps).

We can’t learn and teach our way out of poverty, to paraphrase the subtitle of “Class Dismissed,” author John Marsh’s must-read 2011 book.

Boychuck simply ignores what we know about poverty and learning opportunities. Private schools and charter schools do not change this relationship. They only segregate the poor from the well-off. That protects the middle class, but what about the 51 percent of California students who live in poverty? We need improved public schools with wrap-around support services and sufficient counselors.

Duane Campbell is professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University, Sacramento, and a union activist. Seth Sandrosky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild.