The effort to increase awareness of neighborhood public schools received a boost a few days ago with a story in the DMN about the shiny Public School People signs you might have seen in the neighborhood, their origins and their likely (or unlikely) impact on convincing neighborhood parents to send their children to public instead of private school. The story interviews a few neighborhood residents — mostly Woodrow Wilson High School parents in Lakewood/East Dallas — about why the campaign was started and leads the reader to believe the goal is to bring "affluent white" families back into the fold, so to speak.

We helped design the Public School People signs, so I’m not a disinterested parent. Also, we have a son at Woodrow and another at J.L. Long middle school, and he’ll be attending Woodrow next year. So I have no problem with the campaign and its goal of boosting attendance at neighborhood schools by students of any race and income level.

I do take a bit of issue, though, with one of the story’s angles — that many neighborhood residents with children don’t choose neighborhood public schools because they believe the educational offerings are inferior to that offered at Dallas private schools. Whether a private school education is superior is debatable and unanswerable anyway, so that’s not my concern. However, I don’t think that’s the real reason many parents head for private schools.

Yes, some private schools do offer different and more targeted programs than public schools. And some of the religious-oriented private schools offer an attractive alternative that public schools legally can’t.

But the story only hints at the real reason many neighborhood families — white families — don’t send their students to neighborhood schools: They simply don’t like the idea of their student attending a school in which white kids are the minority rather than the majority. And like lemmings, they’re willing to follow like-minded friends anywhere but to a neighborhood public school.

"Parents choose private schools out of fear," Woodrow principal Ruth Vail, a neighborhood resident, told the DMN.

Clearly, many private school parents don’t think that way. But the thought process is more prevalent than it should be, and a few hundred Public School People signs aren’t going to change those minds.

There is power and persuasion in numbers, and if enough of these signs start popping up in the neighborhood, you can bet that those parents who simply follow the crowd will start wondering if they’re standing in the wrong line.



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