For some, this word reflects a uniformly positive trend towards opening up options for parents and children in terms of where they go to school. Not only does this reflect a capitalist, free market practice of permitting different kinds of schools to compete with each other (which free market/capitalist approach, to many, is an indicator of goodness) - but the competition itself arguably presses and requires different schools to work towards improvement (or to show themselves as lesser qualified or incompetent in the competition). From this perspective, school choice is a positive thing to offer parents who are naturally interested in finding the best education for their children. What’s not to like?
A lot, say other parents and school officials. Starting with the American vision of a universal education freely available to all children - as a kind of common starting point for everyone in America. Similar to other debates around equity, the effort to ensure equality of opportunity and resources seem to suffer in a system where certain families (with more resources, often) are allowed to opt-in to other schools offering better (or different) opportunities for learning. Once that is allowed, the argument goes, others are not allowed to opt in. The very existence of independent schools requires that not everyone is allowed in. Thus the ideal of “everyone allowed - and learning the same stuff” is compromised, from this perspective, by charter schools and school choice.
In response, advocates of choice point out that locally-funded public schools already allow parents who can afford to purchase more expensive housing de facto has created a system in which the children of wealthier parents attend schools with more resources (with parents who attempt to send their children to a “free” public school but who do not live within the district are often fined). In addition, there are many who prefer more diverse choices in schooling, and thus resist the notion of “everyone learning the same stuff” because children are so diverse with respect to learning styles, interests, family culture and religion, etc. Finally, there are those who believe that allowing for greater choice in education will allow for education to benefit from the same process of innovation that has resulted in such dramatic improvements in technology over the decades and centuries.
Is it possible that there are valuable insights among both camps - and that a deeper dialogue between the two could be productive? We think so.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
When you were a child, if you could have gone to any school you wanted, what would you and your parents have chosen? How does considering that question make you feel about school choice today?
- Which is more important: that every child has an equal education, or that every parent has the right to choose what works for their child? What led you to answer that way?
- Whichever way you answered the second question, consider the answer you didn’t give. Do you feel that answer has no merit? Or is it just less important than the answer you chose? Why?
Michael Strong, Cynthia Kurtz
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