I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that we ought to be making inter-district transfers for students more of an option. Doing so probably requires carrots like money and regulatory flexibility as well as sticks like real enforcement of current federal transfer rules and the ideas that Jonathan Kozol recently outlined in the NYT. And I like John Edwards’ ideas of housing vouchers to help parents move to communities with better schools and encouraging more economic integration via transfer schemes. But all these ideas are “lifeboat” ideas. They get some kids off the ship and hopefully to safety but don’t deal with the huge gash in the hull. In fact, the same argument can be leveled against them that many Democrats often level against vouchers: What about all the other kids?
That’s why I think pragmatism (and more or less the SCOTUS) demands that we put at least as much energy into bringing good new public schools to kids in underserved communities as we do trying to bring some of those kids to good public schools outside their communities. It’s also why I support charter schooling. Despite the mixed record to date and all the challenges, there is also a lot of promising innovation, some tremendous schools, and the best promise I see to open a lot of good public schools in communities that currently don’t have nearly enough. in other words, this needs to be about fundamentally changing what schooling looks like in these communities, not just tinkering around the edges.