2011-07-22 / Editorial/Opinion

When ‘Choice’ Is Not Necessarily Good

There was a time in New York City when parents had no choice in which junior high school (that’s what they called them in the good old days) or high school their son or daughter would attend. Actually, if the child was extremely bright or talented, there were a few other choices other than the “zoned” school – Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, and some vocational high schools – but by and large, everybody just went to his or her zoned school with all the other kids from the neighborhood. There is something to be said for that. Nobody traveled long hours getting to and from school, the sports and clubs program flourished and kids from the disparate neighborhoods of Rockaway (even then) finally met and studied together and got to know each other a lot better. Then, the city’s Board of Education decided to end vocational high schools because there were too many minority students and therefore “racist.” The board also decided that kids shouldn’t be locked into their zoned school and attempted to make ‘theme schools” that would draw kids from all over the city. Beach Channel was one of those schools, with an Oceanography major that drew kids from all over the city. Because the brighter students had someplace else to go, the zoned schools began to be the last haven for those who could not go anywhere else. The large zoned schools began to fail because only the weakest and most needy students remained. Now, the Department of Education wants to do the same thing with middle schools. It wants people to have more choice, and it wants to do away with the entire concept of zoned schools. Students can apply for one middle school. If they don’t get that choice, then the DOE will send them anywhere there is space. That is especially grating to the Belle Harbor parents whose children now attend PS 114. Many of them want the Scholars’ Academy as their middle and high school. If they apply to that school, however, and do not make the grade, then there is no assurance that the child will be able to remain at PS 114 for middle school, and may be shipped to Far Rockaway or the mainland for middle school. That is not the way it should be. Parents of young children look to buy a home in a neighborhood where there is a good school. Belle Harbor is one of those neighborhoods, and houses on the west side of Beach 121 Street (in the PS 114 zone) typically sell for tens of thousands of dollars more than houses on the east side of the street (which are zoned for the now-closed PS 225). We should go back to the concept of neighborhood schools. Children in the zone should have the absolute right to apply for magnet programs, but should be allowed to remain in that neighborhood school no matter what. The DOE plan will destabilize both schools and the communities they serve. That is not what the city government should be doing.

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