Just try to envision the scene: A newly elected Republican mayor of a large American city takes steps to close down some of the best schools serving an almost exclusively minority population. You know how it would go. We'd be hearing that Republicans "hate" the poor. The words "cruel," "vicious" and "racist" would circle the new mayor like sharks. News organizations would examine where the mayor sent his own children, and his hypocrisy would be fiercely denounced.
It is, of course, the new Democratic mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who is shutting down a number of highly successful public charter schools. (His son attends a magnet school.) Charters are public schools run by parents or others and are not constrained by the usual public school rules, hours or curricula. Charters currently educate about 20 percent of the students in Harlem and the Bronx, boroughs known for a) poverty, b) unemployment and c) abysmal public schools.
Students are chosen for charter schools by lottery, and if you've seen "Waiting for 'Superman'" or "The Cartel," you've seen the excruciating drama. The Success Academy in Harlem is typical. It received 2,665 applications for 125 spots last year, making it more selective than the Ivy League. When the results are announced, a lucky few are jubilant. The faces of the remainder of the children are tear-stained and devastated. Those tears are haunting -- unworthy of a great nation. We cannot wish away the problems of centuries (the legacy of slavery and discrimination) nor quickly solve the problems of crime and family disintegration that blight the lives of so many inner-city kids. But we can give them a shot at a good education -- the indispensible (if not completely sufficient) ticket to success.
Even the very liberal New Yorker magazine acknowledges the remarkable results achieved by the Success Academy. "Last year, 64 percent of Harlem's third-graders passed the state English exam and 88 percent passed the state math exam. At P.S. 123 ... which is located in the same school building ... only 18 percent of students passed the English test and only 5 percent passed the math test."