What Happens When a Public School Advocate Eschews Public Schools?

When an advocate for public school education pulls their child from their local public school to enroll them in a private school, does that have an impact on their status as an advocate? That is the question being asked by Geoff Decker at GothamSchools as he reports that long-time New York City education advocate Leonie [...]

When an advocate for public school education pulls their child from their local public school to enroll them in a private school, does that have an impact on their status as an advocate? That is the question being asked by Geoff Decker at GothamSchools as he reports that long-time New York City education advocate Leonie Haimson has announced that her youngest child will now be going to a private school — mere days before the news was going to be made public by GothamSchools.

According to Decker, Haimson didn’t hide the change from her friends or the other parental advocates she worked with, but she didn’t choose to announce it until contacted by Gotham for a story. On her own blog, which has been covering the New York City public school system and facets of education reform nationwide since 2007, she said that she didn’t feel that the status of her own children was relevant to her advocacy.

Others, however, were taken aback.

The disclosure caught some other advocates off guard.

“I’m surprised,” said Sheila Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate who has worked with Haimson in recent months. “She’s never said anything about her kids being in private schools.”

After shaping much of her identity around her role as a public school parent, decamping from the city’s public schools puts Haimson in a delicate situation. It also opens her up to questions from her many opponents in the polarized education policy debate.

According to Decker, Haimson’s change of heart and subsequent silence are particularly puzzling in light of the fact that she has taken other lawmakers, policymakers and education advocates to task regarding their own choice of schools for their children. Specifically, she has more than once criticized politicians for spurning public schools in favor of private schools.

She took the issue head on in a column for the Huffington Post demanding that lawmakers stop getting defensive and evasive when asked why they would choose private schools for their own kids. In the column, notable education reformer politicians like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were cited by name as people who pushed education policies while declining to expose their own children to their impact.

But Haimson and supporters said they have only criticized policy makers who push one agenda in public schools but support a different one by sending their children to private schools that do not reflect the public agenda. Unlike those policy makers, Haimson said she wants all students — in both kinds of schools — to have small classes, an enriched arts curriculum, and freedom from standardized tests.

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