How can access to public elementary schools of variable quality be justly distributed within a school district? Two reasonable criteria are: (a) that children should have equal opportunity to attend high-quality schools, and (b) school assignment policies should foster an overall increase in the number of high-quality schools. This article analyzes Boston Public Schools’ new school assignment plan in light of these criteria. It shows that Boston Public Schools’ plan violates equal opportunity by giving middle-class families privileged access to existing high-quality schools. Boston Public Schools arguably panders to more-advantaged families, however, in order to pull them into the system and deploy their economic, political, and social capital to increase the total number of high-quality schools. Is this ethically defensible? To answer this question, we need to develop an ethical theory of pandering: of privileging the interests and preferences of already unjustly privileged actors because the consequences tend to benefit everyone. Such a theory will need to be ethically pluralistic and weighted along a contextually sensitive continuum, rather than rendered in all-or-nothing terms.
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