“So, taking account of all of this, does school choice “work”? The question needs to be answered in three parts. First, for poor parents trapped in dangerous and underperforming urban school systems, it is pretty clear that school choice works. The evidence is reasonably persuasive that access to private schools and charter schools increases the likelihood that their children will fare well on reading and math tests or graduate from high school. And even if those results do not materialize, the parents are more likely to be satisfied with their children’s schools and to regard them as safe.
Second, school choice can help make possible more coherent, focused schools. When families and teachers are assigned to schools based upon geography or bureaucratic formulas, it becomes difficult to forge the kind of agreement needed to establish strong discipline or clear expectations. The opportunities that choice creates for school leaders to recruit like-minded teachers and families — and then to set clear norms around conduct, learning, and pedagogy — can be a powerful tool. Still, their impact ultimately depends on effective use by savvy school leaders — as these opportunities in themselves surely will not automatically yield better schools.
Third, it is far from clear that school choice will necessarily offer broad, systemic benefits. Choice has not inspired hordes of charter-school operators to develop outstanding alternatives; there is no evidence that charter schools, on average across the nation, are better than district schools. Moreover, there is (at best) only very modest evidence that choice programs, in and of themselves, prompt school districts to become more productive or cost effective. There is, however, fairly clear evidence that school districts do respond under sufficient duress and that high-quality charter schools will emerge under the right condition.”