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the political economy of “nice white parents, part 3 – are lotteries justice?

This is the concluding post to my discussion of the NY Times podcast, “Nice White Parents.” A constant issue in education is that we have shifting and competing goals. Pre-Brown v. Board, the whole point was that public schools failed Black students on both counts. Schools simply failed to educate Black students and they obviously treated them in unequal and degrading ways. Post-Brown v. Board, legal separation is over, but there are two related, but distinct issues. First, since schooling is tied to housing in the US, low-SES minority groups will usually have fewer resources. So there is no equality in resources, even if there is legal equality in access (e.g., any resident of this neighborhood is allowed to go to a local school). Second, a lot of parents want “positional goods,” they want the best schools, not merely satisfactory schools. In fact, schooling in the US has shifted toward a model where parents compete for schools – bidding up the price of homes with good schools, competing for spots in “good” schools in urban centers and suburbs, and then competing for college admissions. This, in turn, encourage racial inequality in school.

In the Nice What Parents podcast, this system of parental and child competition is shown to have perverse consequences. Parents endlessly agonize over getting their kids into the right school, coalitions of NWPs endlessly demand more for their kids from the school without including PoCs.

The last episode of the podcast shows how some parents pushed back against this system. They also tackled the issue of equity and by passed the problem where low SES neighborhoods get underfunded schools. A coalition of parents lobbied to have the school district abolish the system where kids compete to get into a school and kids are assigned to school by lottery.

Is the lottery system “justice?” Was the previous system just? A lot hinges on what you think justice is. At the very least, you should get what you pay for. Black parents work hard and pay taxes. Their schools should be adequately staffed and safe. Furthermore, the point of public schooling is not to provide extra special education for some people, but solid basic education for all people. If NWPs want special French classes, they can pay for them.

Ironically, the lottery system of admission is the way that many charter schools run. To prevent parents from gaming the charter school system, many states and jurisdictions require that admissions be randomized. The fact that the PS. 93 parents in Brooklyn pushed for a lottery leads me to suspect that they ultimately decided that parent gaming is not a solvable problem. You just have to by pass it.

So here’s a political ethics question for readers. In what areas of public policy would it be fair and just to randomize access? Can the lesson of schools be transferred to other situations? It’s a good question.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

Posted in uncategorized

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