How I Put Away My Atari 2600 and Learned to Love School Choice


School choice – specifically the lack of it – was my gateway issue into libertarian politics.

I was like a lot of 13-year-old kids growing up in New York City. I had no sense of my own future, much less a concrete political ideology to guide me. All I knew for sure was that my junior high school was stiflingly, soul-numbingly dull.

Another thing I didn't realize at the time: I was zoned for a public high school that was no different. Until somewhere around the 8th grade, I had assumed public high schools were like every other consumer good, that my parents could choose the school that was best for me.

So it came as a strange shock to learn that public schools were not like shoes or cars or even public universities. In retrospect, it was a kind of entry to adulthood, a loss of innocence, to discover that there are other, larger forces at work, beyond your control, that shape your future. Zoning meant that my first 12 years of schooling would be based entirely on the block where my parents had chosen to live. Along the way, I'd be accompanied by the same set of students, the same educational philosophy, the same formula, and in all likelihood, the same results.

For the vast majority of students in New York City in the mid-1980s, zoning was destiny. There were no charter schools. The idea of school vouchers seemed as elusive, and about as plausible, as a flux capacitor. The NYC Board of Education was the unchallenged overseer of the city's schools – one bureaucracy set the path; everyone else followed.

There was, however, one way out. Magnet schools weren't exactly an exit from the prevailing system – they were administered by the same Board of Education – but at least they had a measure of autonomy and offered a different approach to schooling.

The catch was that magnets like Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, and LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts, were only open through competitive admission. And the competition was intense. Because many zoned schools were undesirable, the chances of getting accepted to a magnet school at the time was on the order of 30-to-1.

I took my application to LaGuardia with the seriousness it required. I spent 8th and 9th grades preparing for the rigorous, three-hour audition. I put away my beloved Atari 2600 and spent my summers studying Shakespeare's comedies. My parents were generous enough to hire a college drama student to give me private lessons, once a week, to teach me how to recite a monologue and improvise on a stage.

Eventually, I was accepted to LaGuardia. I'm not sure what was the greater thrill at the time: to attend a great high school, or to have narrowly avoided a rotten one. The excitement also came with a bitter aftertaste. For everyone like myself, who gained acceptance to a magnet school, there were as many as 29 others who were denied admisssion. I had many friends who didn't "make it in" and they were stuck with whatever school the bureaucracy had to offer.

Fast forward three decades, and public schools seem only a bit less unfair. Only 6% of New York City high school students attend a charter school. The magnet schools are still around, and they're as competitive as ever. For too many families, zoning is still destiny.

But that is changing fast. Other cities across America are moving to school choice more rapidly than New York City– and reaping the rewards. That's why it was a great pleasure to produce this video about New Orleans, which boasts America's first all-charter school district. Every student there enjoys the dream I have hoped for since I was a teenager: to participate in school choice. 

But how is it working out so far? Schools are complex and contentious institutions, and New Orleans' path to improvement has been a difficult one. Click below, and I'll show you all about it.

Will Regulation Ruin School Choice in New Orleans

Runs about 7:30 minutes.

Produced, shot, narrated, and edited by Todd Krainin.

NEXT: (Mis)Measuring executive overreach revisited

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. For the vast majority of students in New York City in the mid-1980s, zoning was destiny.

    That was true for all public-school students in the county where I grew up in the seventies; the first magnet school had yet to open. One of my teachers explained to me that letting students go to schools matched to their abilities would be elitist. Apparently, reserving the best schools for students whose parents could afford to live in a trophy ZIP code was not elitist.

    1. The accusation of elitism is still made by school choice opponents, even today in New Orleans. But the momentum is on the side of reform. Every year there are fewer and fewer people who are against choice.

      And you’re absolutely right: a system based on area zoning is far more exclusive and unfair.

  2. Unfortunately, your major metropolitan areas are controled by the Democrats and therefore the unions. The local sycophantic media will play the hero teacher vs evil corporation lie at any threat of competition.

    1. And the answer is basic; donate to whatever scholarship funds are available in your area. The school fascists can’t quite fool themselves that they could interfere with private school scholarships without getting major blowback.

      We can break the Techers’ Unions, the Edication establishment, and their hangers on. We have to.

  3. You damn whippersnappers and your fancy ataris. We had pong and that was good enough.

    1. We had chess and card games. No, I’m not from Yorkshire; why do you ask?

      1. Used to play chess with my dad a lot. Good times.

        1. We played computer chess—on our abacus!!!

          1. Abacus? Luxuuury! We computed chess algorithms on our toes and fingers.

            1. 5 miles…6-foot snow drifts….uphill both ways…
              Get off my lawn!

                1. “Sevo, really?”

                  You think YOU have medical problems?
                  I’m legally DEAD!
                  (I hadn’t seen that before)

    1. “Mom! Dad! I know where I wanna transfer to!”

  4. In NYC, Zoning is density.


    Zoning is density…I mean, destiny.

    1. How observant of you, Calvin. You win an invitation to the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance.

      1. Uh, oh; my youngest child just said that he wishes he’d never been born…

  5. Hence the reason – at least in this city – a modest ranch house can be priced from anywhere from $90k to $350k, all dependent on the school zone.

    I got my kid in the best public school in the area by renting a modest house in a neighborhood that I couldn’t buy into – at least not with my wife’s crippling student debt.

  6. I moved into a trailer park so we could homeschool. Because once you ditch public schools, you can live any damn where you can please and still give your kids a quality education.

    1. I echo and applaud your heroic attitude. Unfortunately, you still have to pay taxes for the public schools. Nevertheless, you’re on the right track. Good work!

  7. In the late 80’s I went to a junior high that was a magnet school, in Coney Island. Kids from every backround and faith from different parts of the city. Best school experience you could ever imagine.

  8. OT: 2 cops shot execution style in NYC. Shooter murdered his girlfriend this morning in Baltimore. Looks like shooting was revenge for cop on black shootings.

    1. Well that’s not good. Obviously suicidal people don’t care about the ramifications of their actions but that’s a great way to reinforce the ‘us vs them’ siege mentality of cops.

      1. We’ll see lots of ‘see, this is why we must not relent in cases like the Eric Garner, because we’re always at risk for this!’

    2. Maybe one of the Gang in Blue will whack De Blasio. The only time anyone tried to assassinate a New York City Mayor it was caught on film:….._shot2.jpg

  9. Isn’t part of the problem that public education is meant to provide a floor? Like most benefit programs it’s there to supposedly address the people who, because of lousy or unfortunate parents, would not get educations from private options.

  10. When the Atari 2600 was the best gaming choice, then it was good.

    In 2014, put away your kiddie consoles, losers, if you aren’t gaming on PC, then you aren’t gaming.

    1. Hyperion speaks The Truth. I too once toiled with a console. No more. There is only One True Game System, and PC is his name.

    2. Well, in this fucking place we have all the consoles and all the PC’s.

      All the PC’s rule. I, as Dad, have few things I will enforce here. All the PC’s rule is one of them.

    3. Even in libertarian centres, PC gaming collectivism exists.

      But you’re not wrong.

      1. Consoles are what you buy for your tax deductions so that they don’t bug you about playing the computer.

    4. I keep intending to switch over, but then I learn that I have to build a PC to be doing I tight. Yeah, I’m sure it’s really easy,but I don’t have that kind of time.

      1. Yes you do it’s easy, fun, and builds pride. You can describe your build here and ask for the thumbs up or down. Go to NCIX for your parts.

  11. OMG, console gaming SUCKS

    Way less mods available and WAY less “deals”.

    Less configurable for controller input, very limited graphics, etc.

    My current setup I have a R9 290 (very overclockable), a solid quad core and the graphics resolution, framerate etc. blows away Xbox one. It’s not even close.

    I have a g27 for racing sims (which got me so into racing, I ended up purchasing a kit car, so I am currently building a race car in my garage. thanks PC!!!) which Im not sure if available for consoles but maybe, and kickass speakers and monitor and its just a WAY better experience.

    Also, while PC gamers can use controllers OR keyboard mouse etc. (and many games shine on the latter), can consoles even use mouse/keyboard?

    1. I fuckin WAAAAAAAAAAAAy prfer pc’s you fucking epic whore

  12. Let it go dude thats ll I can say man. Wow.

    1. What? Hey! You Jerk; now that stupid song’s in my head.

  13. This whore should enjoy his fuckin Atari in FUCKING 2016 and.shut.the.ducts.up!

  14. Dudes, a reason rave is what i’m about ….

  15. School choice is not the answer. Waiting for public schools to get significantly better is the only answer. Should happen sometime within the next ten years.

  16. And this is the reason that education and the State must be separated FOREVER. “The Congress and the States shall make no law regulating education, nor shall they collect any taxes for, or provide any assistance to educational establishments.”

  17. This christmas with Santa Claus special offer happy life free registration , free gift and much more bundles just as Samuel explained I cant believe that a mother can make $7276 in a few weeks on the internet . read the full info here to keep it join.
    big christmas big offer -=-=-=-=-=-

  18. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail


  19. my best friend’s sister-in-law makes $85 an hour on the laptop . She has been without work for five months but last month her pay was $20763 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read More Here…….

  20. It’s not got MUCH spam in it!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.