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I happen to live on one of the best public school districts in the entire country. The Pittsford Central School district consistently produces kids with extremely high test scores, almost every kid ends up in a good college, etc. We also spend nearly $18,000 per student on our education in this district. The district is probably in the top 5 wealthiest communities in Western, NY and is an extremely desirable place for families to locate. My wife and I purchased a home in the district not because we like the public schools (we send our children to the local Catholic School) but rather because we know that other people like homes in this area, and after getting bitten by the housing bubble in Massachusetts were interested in purchasing a home that was extremely liquid.

You all know how public schools work in New York State. You must live in the district your child ends up attending. So, for example, I cannot buy a really cheap house in inner-city Rochester and then choose to send my kid to the nice Pittsford schools. Let’s not ask why we have that policy, I am sure it has nothing to do with keeping undesirables out of our lily-white neighborhood here in Pittsford. Instead, let us ask how the schools themselves are staffed.

My neighbor here in Pittsford teaches in the Rush-Henrietta school district. That district is considerably weaker/inferior than the Pittsford schools. And these are schools that no one who lives in Pittsford wishes to send their children to. Studies of public school teachers in the past have shown a remarkable tendency for public school teachers in inner cities to send their kids to non-public schools, but I would like to see data on what share of public school teachers with children choose to send their kids to other public schools? By choose I simply mean, “live in another school district.”

Let me ask, on what moral, intellectual, economic or other grounds can someone make the case the employees of the public school system have the right to choose where they would like to employ their talents but that families should not have the same rights as to where their kids attend? Why should my neighbor be permitted to teach in the Rush-Henrietta schools if she does not choose to live in that district? Is it because freedom of choice is valuable and ought to be preserved at all costs? Is it because it would be unfair for her to have to work only in the place where she chooses to live? Is it because there are not enough good teachers in the bad school district for it to be staffed by only local teachers? What gives?

Now of course I support freedom of association in the grandest fashion. But someone please tell me why teachers and administrators in the public schools get to enjoy these rights but not the parents of the children who clearly have so much more at stake than any of the employees in these areas? ┬áHere is another question, if someone wishes to respond to my query with, “well, there simply are not enough jobs in the good school districts,” then what does this say about the level of pay, benefits and job security in these school districts? What of the pay and working conditions in the poorer districts? ┬áNote that I am not an advocate of lowering teacher pay by legislative decree, teacher pay, like that of any profession, ought to be determined by market forces. But that is a question for another day.

6 Responses to “School Choice for Me But Not for Thee”

  1. blink says:

    I agree with your general point, but think the frame is wrong. Instead of direction the rant against teachers and administrators, is should be against the schools (technically, the school boards): Why should a school be allowed to hire teachers from outside their district when they refuse to admit students from outside their district?

  2. Rod says:

    I’m surprised that the American Federation of Teachers lets one school district in the Rochester area pay teachers more and another less. Our teachers’ union always argues that we are “behind” the Council Rock School District, in lower Bucks County, where living costs are much higher than in northwestern Montgomery County, where I live. They also cite the fact that many of our teachers live in the expensive suburbs as justification for demanding the highest salaries in the Philadelphia suburbs.

    Local control of public schools is a big issue in Pennsylvania. The state department of education has been pushing the consolidation of school districts on grounds of administrative efficiency (a bigger governmental unit is always more efficient than a smaller one!). Among other things, it would force school districts to merge their finances and to share tax revenues. School districts like ours which contain a higher-than-average percentage of big industrial taxpayers would share revenues with school districts with a high percentage of residential taxpayers. I’m not sure, but it could also be possible that students would be allowed to choose schools within those larger districts. The question is, then, would our district include Pottstown? If not, who gets Pottstown? Nobody would want Pottstown.

    And what would the bondholders think about consolidation?

    In some states, like Maryland and Virginia, school districts are county-wide.

  3. Harry says:

    A question, Mike: how much does the central Rochester school district spend per student? Answer that question only if you have it roughly. I was wondering because the argument would go that Rochester’s schools are inferior because they do not spend enough on teachers, or perhaps bricks and mortar or books.

    I am an expert on operations in general, and cannot believe that the problem we have with schools is that they need more of anything to succeed: more time, more space, more equipment, more money that, in my experience, is never the answer. Every area you walk into is completely screwed up, and any government operation is always more screwed up than a private one.

  4. Harry says:

    Your neighbor responded to the choices before him. He got a house in Pittsford, for reasons, and got a job in Rochester.

    It should not matter that he got a teaching job in Rochester. He could have gotten a job doing anything. But he pays school taxes in Pittsfield, and resides in Pittsfield– ergo, his kids should be entitled to go to Pittsfield government-run schools.

    But Wintercow is asking a much larger question here, much more complicated.

    I too wonder why Wintercow has to spend so much of his money on private school when the state is relieved of the burden of $36,000 a year to educate his kids. Wintercow and his neighbors pay, I assume, plenty in school taxes and other taxes that will continue to be paid, as long as we live, beyond the academic lives of our own children.

    Would it not be fair for the school district to send, say, seven to ten grand a year for each child enrolled in Catholic Schools? Wintercow would still be generously subsidizing other peoples’ children.

  5. Greg says:

    I had a friend in high school that lived in Avon, but his mom taught at our school in HF-L; and because of that he was able to attend HF-L with us. Not a bad deal, the schools were about equidistant from their home and he was able to upgrade his education/athletic career from Avon to HF-L. Had his mom not worked at HF-L and instead worked in Avon he would have been required to attend Avon, as he lived within district lines and had no outside connection.

    I also think one important factor regarding the idea that teachers don’t want to teach in bad school districts is it’s just much harder work. You receive less in terms of resources and other inputs. And, you need to put a lot more into the job to get the same results out of your students. Thus, and this is definitely entirely speculation by me, but I think a lot of these good teachers in “bad schools” feel as though they’re underpaid when compared to their counterparts in affluent districts. This, if true, leads to a whole slate of issues that I can’t dive into now.

    I do agree with what I think your point is. Why do teachers get to choose schools, but students do not? I’d love to see the look on some Pittsford family’s faces if all of a sudden their school is somehow opened up to anyone living in Monroe county, or some larger area than the town of Pittsford. Creating that mobility and choice would certainly be complicated, and I’m not sure if such change would be for the better or the worse when considering overall student achievement and learning.

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