No, sending your child to public school won’t save the schools. Not even if everyone did it.

An Allison Benedikt article on Slate is getting a lot of attention, partly due to its provocative headline: “If you send your kid to a private school, you are a bad person.”

Benedikt’s argument is basically this: People who send their kids to private school care about their kids’ education, so if those kids were in public school, the parents would work to make that school better.

Oh, if only that were true. If only somehow the children of the wealthy (and their parents) could make schools a better place for everyone by their mere presence. Wouldn’t that be great? But you know what? They wouldn’t. Sure, the wealthy parents might spend more time volunteering in the schools. They might lobby for more money to be spent on schools and for better schools to be built.

But they wouldn’t want this for everyone. They would want this for their kids. So they wouldn’t lobby for a new school to replace the crumbling central-city school; they’d lobby for a gleaming new suburban palace in their wealthy neighborhood (but not too close — wouldn’t want to spoil their view of the golf course).

Think I’m wrong? Look, this already happens. Plenty of wealthy parents are too cheap to send their kids to private schools. So they send them to public schools, then set up PTAs to raise money for those schools, turning them into the next best thing to a private school, at a fraction of the cost. They lobby against busing. They support zoning laws restricting high-density development so that poor people can’t afford to live in their neighborhoods. They do all this even though they could afford to send their kids to private school.

These people are not benevolent. Sure, they care about their kids. To a lesser extent they care about their neighbor’s kids. But they don’t care about poor kids. They might say they care, but they certainly aren’t volunteering to put on a bake sale at the poor kids’ school. They’re not coaching the poor kids’ Little League teams, they’re not advocating for higher wages so poor parents can afford a better life for their own children.

There are a lot of things wrong with the public schools. I may not know how to fix them, but I do know one thing: Asking wealthy folks to voluntarily stop sending their kids to private schools won’t fix the schools.

And it especially won’t help the public schools that need help the most.

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