It’s such an interesting expression. I heard it on a podcast of This American Life. It means to look around different neighborhoods, so that when you buy a house it sends your kids to the best local (public) school possible.
The problem is that the phrase implies a very specific economic reality. When I “shop for a car”, I know that I can spend more money and get a better car. The question is: Should you be able to buy a better “public” education?
This isn’t shopping for a private school. This is shopping for a public school. The link is undeniable: better schools are in more expensive neighborhoods. If you can afford a bigger/nicer house, generally the school is bigger and nicer too.
Go to a rich neighborhood and look at the public elementary school. Now go to a very poor neighborhood and do the same. They look very different. Hint: The rich one is nicer.
Shouldn’t public schools be equal? Shouldn’t they all have the same benefits and downfalls? After all, in Brown vs. Board of Education, we established as a nation that segregated schools are unconstitutional. Yet, we still have segregated schools and they are certainly not equal.
In California, individual schools often have “fund raisers” for the budget. The richest neighborhoods raise more money for their schools than the entire budget coming from the state. This is how they afford better facilities, which draws better teachers. We, as a society, have chosen (implicitly) to have unequal public education.
There is so much that saddens me about public education. It seems the road in front of us is clear if we do not make any changes. We will continue to lose out to other nations like India, Japan and China that take education more seriously. We will continue to disenfranchise poor (often minority) children.
The answer is obvious, yet difficult. We need to be less selfish. We need to elect officials that are more progressive. It’s hard to see how people will be less selfish. Our culture glorifies selfishness and ignorance. Maybe they would have a better point of view if only they had grown up with a better education? (Irony)