I don’t know that I have my thoughts fully formulated on this topic yet, but something about the whole business bothers me deeply. Last night I first heard the acronym “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as a reference to a program of “special high schools” in the Houston Independent School District. I haven’t learned everything about how they work yet, but as far as I can tell a student has to 1) reside in the associated school zone, and 2) pass a battery of tests to be allowed into the program, which is clearly designed to give the participating students an advantage when it comes to further achievement in technology fields.
Ok – wait. This is our PUBLIC school system. The whole goal of the public school system is supposed to be to provide, as much as possible, equal educational opportunities for every single member student. And yet here we have the HISD deliberately creating some few “special programs” which will offer advantages only to students that are 1) particularly smart and 2) live in the right area. That’s wrong from the get-go – those select students will be offered advantages that the other students in the district are not. If parents want that sort of advantage for their children then they should have to open their wallets and send their kids to private schools that offer them, if the can find such schools. Getting those special advantages partially funded by the public tax base is wrong. For the school district authorities to deliberately create such a situation is wrong.
I have to wonder how the location of these schools is chosen? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that real estate investors use the presence of such programs to market properties within the school zone – the message to affluent parents all over would be “Buy here – your child will have access to the STEM school.” And thus the aforementioned advantages will fall not so much to the “random smart” children that happen to live in the zone as to the “affluent smart children” whose parents can afford to move them into the area.
Furthermore, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that these same real estate investors influenced the HISD board members in the initial decision of where to put the STEM schools – in a deliberate attempt to drive up their property values. It’s via this sort of ugly process that the rich get richer – not through harder work but rather through influence, bribery, and underhanded games.
So – the best way forward is to demand that our school districts pursue policies of absolute equality. I have no doubt that even if the districts try hard to keep things precisely equal there will still be some inequalities – it’s hard to get anything perfect. But at the very least we can stamp out the creation of deliberate inequalities – because that is never a good thing.