Wednesday, February 15, 2012

City Public Schools Aren't Broken

A little over a year ago, my wife accepted a job offer that required a relocation from Greater Denver to Greater DC. At that time, both our children were pre-K. School quality was a major factor in our decision about where to live. However, with "good" schools came dear rental costs. What to do?

I started looking for geographic arbitrage opportunities. I'm of the mind that most people get a poor return on their real estate investment in terms of schooling for their children. A substantial foreign born enrollment in a public school is a strong indicator of an under-valued institution. ESL issues drag down test scores and stories about illegal immigrants route native born domestic migrants elsewhere.

A few years back, Herndon was a lightening rod for the hysteria about immigration to Northern Virginia. A number of people warned us to steer clear of Herndon because it was dangerous and the schools were horrible. Relatively lower rent costs supported the negative reputation. So, I focused our housing search in Herndon. I was pleased with many of the options we found there and the associated schools reminded me of life in Colorado. There are large numbers of Latinos, which is what attracted us to our former neighborhood in Longmont.

We ended up in Leesburg because of other considerations (e.g. proximity to extended family). But I still think Herndon would have been a good choice. I like the idea of my children going to school with other kids who have parents born in another country. That's my definition of an excellent education. I'm in good company:

In interviews, affluent foreign-born New Yorkers said that like all conscientious parents, they weighed various criteria in choosing schools, including quality, cost and location. But many said they were also swayed by the greater ethnic and economic diversity of the public schools. Some said that as immigrants, they had learned to navigate different cultures — a skill they wanted to imbue in their children.

“When they go to public school, they’re in a whole new world, a whole world of different people and different values, which is what the world is like,” said Lyn Bollen, who grew up in Birmingham, England, and attended — and taught at — state-run schools. “Shielding them from that is doing them a disservice.”

Well said. I share this sentiment. Urban public schools mimic the economic development that happens because of migration. Private schools are walled-off and territorial. This is a world of borders, the old economy. The benefits of affluence are muted in such an environment. You want to give your child a leg up in the world? Start by looking at the public schools with lousy test scores.

1 comment:

Ryan Champlin said...

I couldn't agree more. And for those parents who just can't bring themselves to enter the traditional public school system, look to the various charter schools that are usually just as diverse but teach in an alternative fashion. It's not that most charter schools out-perform public schools, but it is another option. Now the question is, how do we get better results and higher graduation rates out of our public schools? Does this naturally come with economic development?