No Choice

If choice is the only choice is it still choice?

Today we turn to one of the most baffling conundrums of these fiercely urgent days. If school choice is indeed the civil rights issue of our time, why do its chosen beneficiaries so rarely get to exercise any choice about choosing it? Alas reader, we are left with no choice. To the choicemobile, and make it snappy! We’re headed to Camden, New Jersey, where school choice is on its way, whether people there choose to choose it or not.

The people’s choice
Our journey begins just over a year ago with the choice of a new leader to run the Camden Public Schools. Paymon Rouhanifard, neeGoldman Sachs, was the people’schoice. No silly, not the people of Camden themselves, who were given no choice in the matter thanks to thechoice-free combo of a state-appointed superintendent and an appointed school board. I’m talking about the other people—the unlikely coalition of elites, both near and far, who have decided that Camden’s children, long last by almost every conceivable measure of wellbeing, must at last be put first. Or something like that.

A divine choice
Still, the People’s Choice had his work cut out for him. With no formal way for Camden parents to express their choice for the future of the city’s schools, PR had no choice but to attempt to divine their choice. But how? Given Camden’s proximity to the water, an extraneous detail that has nothing to do with this particular story, an old-fashioned divining rod was out. Which left PR with no alternative but to try to intuit the people’s choice, which PR quickly intuited was choice. And while the people may not have actually said that they wanted choicewhen they had the opportunity to speak, at school board meetings or on PR’s *listening tour,* it turned out that choice was the only choice on offer. 

Hope and choice
Do you know what’s even better than choice? Lots and lots of choice, served up super fast. In fact, to give the people of Camden all of the choice they will now have no choice but to choose, some complicated legal maneuverings were necessary. Thanks to a one year extension of the Urban Hope Act, both the letters and the intent of which have apparently been rearranged to spell *choice,* charter school chains including Mastery, KIPP and Uncommon, will be able to open as many as 15 new schools in Camden, beginning this fall. The choice of the new charter chain schools is expected to replace the choice of the old district schools and the choice of many of the city’s existing charter choices. New choice, by the way, seems to mean just one choice: interchangeable *no excuses* charter schools. In other words, it’s possible that choice may actually end up providing Camden parents with less choice

And finally, the voice of an actual parent
What do parents in Camden think of all of the choices they will soon have nochoice but to choose? I decided to call one on the phone and ask her myself. Carmen Crespo, whose three children attend Camden Public Schools, was a regular presence at school board meetings throughout the spring. *As a parent, I say a lot, but I’m not listened to,* she told me, explaining that she thinks Camden parents are widely viewed as being incapable of making decisions on matters as important as what kind of schools they want for their kids. Crespo describes herself as a passionate parent who was spurred to get more involved as the debate over the future of Camden’s schools heated up, and teacher layoffs and cutbacks began to hit her kids’ schools. I listened to Carmen. In fact, everyone should listen to Carmen, which is why I’m giving you no choice but to listen to her too. Carmen: the rest of this post is yours. Take it away…
I’d like to know that too.

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