School Choice – The Key to the American Dream

(This post was originally posted 6/20/20.)

(Author’s note: As we enter the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, there are several campaign issues which have been previously addressed in this blog. These include Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare, socialism, school choice and others. In the next few weeks I will be re-posting many of my previous posts on these issues as a review for voters. For this limited time I will be posting five days a week instead of the usual twice a week. These earlier posts will be intermingled with new posts on current topics.)


We hear a lot in the media lately about injustice and inequality in our country. People are protesting for fair and equal treatment of blacks and other people of color. They are calling for reparations that will somehow make up for the sins of our forefathers and give blacks a better chance to achieve the American dream.

Why aren’t these same people protesting for school choice?

Education is the key to escaping poverty. There is no argument on this point. Without an education, there is no future. Without an education there is no American dream. Yet the same people who tell us we aren’t “woke” enough to understand the plight of the African-Americans in this country, oppose school choice.

Thomas Sowell is a black economist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a new book coming out called Charter Schools and Their Enemies. In a recent Op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he extolls the virtues of charter schools. In particular, he holds up the example of The Success Academy of New York City. Sowell writes, “Their predominantly black and Hispanic students already pass tests in mathematics and English at a higher rate than any school district in the entire state. That includes predominantly white and Asian school districts where parental income is some multiple of what it is among Success Academy students.

There has long been an accepted educational dogma that blacks and Hispanics from low-income neighborhoods can’t compete with higher-income whites. But charter schools are proving this dogma incorrect. Given the choice to attend these schools, blacks and Hispanic students from these low-income neighborhoods are succeeding.

Why do Democrats and civil rights leaders oppose charter schools and school choice?

Sowell explains: “The success of New York City’s charter schools is not only a threat to educational dogmas. Competition from charter schools is an existential threat to traditional public schools in low-income minority communities, which tend to have even lower educational outcomes than traditional public schools as a whole.”

Not only are these low-income minority children in charter schools outperforming the public schools, they’re doing it in the same buildings! In 28 classes in these buildings, fewer than 10% of the students reached the “proficient” level on statewide tests. All 28 classes were in traditional public schools. All charter school classes at the same grade levels in the same buildings did better – including six grade levels where the charter school majorities reaching the “proficient” level ranged from 81% to 100%.

The opponents of charter schools and school choice insist that charter schools “skim the cream” of students, leaving the public schools worse off. This seems plausible – until you understand that admission to New York City charter schools is by lottery – and not by students’ academic records or test results.

Even considering that more motivated students are more likely to enter the lottery, only a fraction of those who enter the admissions lottery win. The majority of these motivated students remain in the traditional public schools. In 2019 there were more than 50,000 New York City students on waiting lists to transfer into charter schools.

The real reason that Democrats and civil rights leaders oppose charter schools and school choice is because they depend on the support of teachers’ unions to get elected. The success of charter schools means the loss of taxpayers’ support for public schools. It is estimated that if every child in New York City seeking to enter a charter school could be accepted, it would mean the loss of over a billion dollars a year to the public schools and teachers’ unions.

In an effort to thwart charter schools, opponents have tried to limit the number of charter schools allowed – regardless of whether these charter schools are good, bad or indifferent. Most states have such laws, though the only purpose these laws serve is to impede the exodus of students from traditional public schools. In cities across the nation, public school officials are blocking charter schools from using school building that have been vacant for years to prevent transfers into charter schools from taking place.

School choice is all about creating competition in the school system that raises the quality of education for everyone. Competition always raises quality and lowers the cost of any product in the marketplace. Education is no different. School choice will raise the standards for educating children of all races and all income levels. It will weed out poor-performing schools and teachers and select only for the best of both. The only losers in this scenario are the teachers’ unions – and the politicians who depend upon their support. It’s time those who profess to be concerned about the future of blacks and other minorities show their true colors – by supporting school choice and charter schools.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called school choice “the civil rights issue of our times.” It’s time the civil rights leaders turned their backs on the teachers’ unions and started supporting the children of the people they claim to serve.