03/27/2012 11:22 am ET Updated May 27, 2012

Admissions Policies That Embrace All Children

Dismantling what is, in effect, a two-tiered, inequitable education system requires (among other things) opening up access to our public schools so that they truly serve all children. What are we promoting and creating if people think they are entitled to, and are allowed to "own" access to certain public schools? This access translates into race and class privilege.

We have seen countless examples of how school choice is about choice for some at the expense of others. One group I have been part of, the Center for Immigrant Families (now part of the Parent Leadership Project), has documented the ways low income parents of color have been denied access to our public schools (which I wrote about in an earlier post). In response to this organizing, parents have also been researching alternative admissions policies that are about embracing all children.

Parents are seeking an admissions system where families aren't privileged because English is their first language, or because they have wealth, are white, or are favored by the system in another way. We want the schools to be truly public and to reflect all our communities. When we say access, we don't mean access based on one's ability to buy a co-op near a particular school, but what we want and need are schools that serve all our communities.

Therefore, we have looked at what is known as "community controlled choice," which is a fair and equitable way to assign students to public schools. The process is not left in the hands of some free market system but, rather, offers meaningful choice within a framework that has as its foundation a commitment to equitable access and high quality education for all. The choice is controlled -- controlled for fairness, for equity, and to ensure genuine access. It does not permit one group to exploit another. It does not privilege one group over others.

Michael Alves, who has helped implement numbers of controlled choice plans, notes that these plans, which have been adopted by school districts across the United States, have proven to be equitable and fair. He also points to the fact that one of the things that consistently happens is that there becomes an investment by all families in all the schools, rather than in just some. That is, the success and well-being of all the schools become the responsibility of the larger community.

The community is a critical component of controlled choice. In fact, parents and families and communities, particularly those who have been most marginalized by the system, must be at the center so that what evolves truly reflects the needs of a community and is not some artificial construct designed to enable inequitable patterns and policies to flourish.

In New York City, parents in Districts 1 and 3 in Manhattan, who have been working on issues of equity and access in their separate communities for many years, have come together this past year to begin looking at how community controlled choice can contribute to strengthening our schools and our communities and lay the groundwork for equitable and accessible public education. As part of this organizing, parents have created the Community Controlled Choice Project. It's part of a larger movement that is about reclaiming public education, about reclaiming the public good, and about public education being inextricably linked to the larger movement for racial and economic justice.