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School choice & civil rights

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WBFO News file photo
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School hallway

As the Buffalo Public School District continues review of its school choice policy, one national civil rights expert explains how important the issue is across the country.  In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley talks with the co-writer of "Educational Delusions?," who says many forms of choice make it a complicated matter.

"The basic reality in American schools is we have the best schools for the most privileged kids and the worse schools for the most extremely disadvantaged kids," said Gary Orfield, professor at UCLA Graduate School of Education.  He is co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the school.  

Orfield is an expert on racial inequality in schools.  Recently the city school district agreed voluntarily to review its school choice policy after  parents filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.  They're upset with how the district selects students for its seven criteria based schools.

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Gary Orfield is a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education. He is co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the school.

Orfield notes districts must make school choice fair for all.

"I'm not in favor of ending choice.  I'm not in favor of taking good schools and changing them so they are not so effective. I'm in favor of expanding choice and making it more equitable," said Orfield in a WBFO News interview.

Orfield said there has been a tremendous expansion of school choice with an increasing number of charter schools in recent years, but he noted Buffalo was once a pioneer with school choice when it created magnet schools.

"During the magnet school era -- we learned what needed to be done to make choice fair.
said Orfield. "Now during the charter school and post civil rights era we've kind of forgotten all those lessons."

Buffalo's high segregation rate makes school choice a complicated matter for parents.

"If you don't work on segregation -- it spreads like a cancer," remarked Orfield.

Orfield said expansion of residential segregation in Buffalo and its suburbs and deregulation of bussing rules in the 1990's has left no 'legal frame work' -- creating a dip in equity for school choice. 

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