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School choice divides and stigmatizes communities

President of the Senate Michael Miller speaks with Kirwan commission chairman William E. "Brit" Kirwan after a press conference announcing plans for expanding education through the Kirwan commission plan in Annapolis.
President of the Senate Michael Miller speaks with Kirwan commission chairman William E. "Brit" Kirwan after a press conference announcing plans for expanding education through the Kirwan commission plan in Annapolis. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazett / Capital Gazette)

On Monday, Stephen Walters criticized the Kirwan Commision for expanding the education monopoly while refusing to allow families and students the opportunity to choose where they attend school (“Kirwan Commission enables education monopoly,” Sept. 9). For many folks, they don’t have a choice about where their kids attend school, and I can understand the appeal of Mr. Walters’ argument.

However, the problem with the argument is that we know from history what it was like to live in a time where people had school choice and the state was largely absent from schooling. It’s only been about 100 years since the last state — Mississippi in 1918 — passed a compulsory education law. Before these laws were passed, the free market regulated education. And, being that education is costly in the moment and valuable, monetarily, far in the future, many folks were excluded from the market. Many children, especially poor ones, didn’t attend. Instead of school, they often worked in dangerous conditions. The market for education was not operating in a socially optimal way.

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Today’s market for education isn’t perfect, but in Baltimore, the idea that there are too few school choices rings hollow. Baltimore City high school enrollment is entirely determined by a choice system, and Baltimore County has a plethora of magnet options that allow students of all ages to apply to the school of their choice. Furthermore, the implication that providing school choice to students and families will result in amazing schools is misleading. It leads to really good public schools for a select few, leaving the rest behind.

For the first nine years of my teaching career, I arrived to work each morning to see busloads of students being shipped away from my school. These students chose a magnet school instead. Inside the building, I taught all the others. Students who frequently lamented why they weren’t at this magnet or that one bemoaning having to attend their home school. As teenagers, the message was clear: there were good schools and bad schools. They attended a bad one. School choice divides and stigmatizes communities. Let’s not encourage such a system.

Adam Sutton, Towson

The writer is a Baltimore County Public Schools teacher and a writer.

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