Want to know more about school choice? Read this

  • Start here
  • Who wants school choice?
  • Does school choice work?
  • How can we improve the school choice conversation
  • Conclusion

Start here

Given President Donald Trump’s support of school choice on the campaign trail, and his decision to nominate longtime school choice proponent Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education, it’s fully expected that the Trump administration will seek to expand school choice options across the country.

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Keep clicking to learn more about school choice – and steps the new administration might take to advance it in its first 100 days.

Who wants school choice?

In many forums, school choice is often discussed as something desired by politicians or partisan advocates.  But the reality is that it’s families who want school choice. 

OL’s storyboard on improving K-12 education highlights this desire:

“A recent poll from Paul Diperna at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows the overwhelming desire among parents for more choices.”  (From the poll:) ‘When asked for a preferred school type, a plurality of Americans chose a private school (41%) as a first option for their child. A little more than one-third of respondents (36%) would select a regular public school. Nearly equal proportions would select a public charter school (12%) or opt to homeschool their child (9%).  Those private preferences signal a glaring disconnect with actual school enrollment patterns in the United States. The reality check is profound.’”

Does school choice work?

The goal of the school choice movement is simple: give families more choices about where their kids can attend school, and provide more students across the country the opportunity to have a quality K-12 education.  Unfortunately, though, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around about whether school choice produces results.

Cato scholar Jason Bedrick sets the record straight — highlighting in particular one new study.  He writes,

“There are a great many reasons to support educational choice: maximizing freedom, respecting pluralismreducing social conflictempowering the poor, and so on. One reason is simply this: it works.

This week, researchers Patrick J. Wolf, M. Danish Shakeel, and Kaitlin P. Anderson of the University of Arkansas released the results of their painstaking meta-analysis of the international, gold-standard research on school choice programs, which concluded that, on average, such programs have a statistically significant positive impact on student performance on reading and math tests. Moreover, the magnitude of the positive impact increased the longer students participated in the program.

As Wolf observed in a blog post explaining the findings, the ‘clarity of the results… contrasts with the fog of dispute that often surrounds discussions of the effectiveness of private school choice.’” 

How can we improve the school choice conversation

In his National Affairs article from fall 2010, education scholar Rick Hess outlines a strategy for more clearly answering inquiries about whether school choice is effective:

“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.” 


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