School choice

School choice

School choice is a term used to describe a wide array of programs aimed at giving families the opportunity to choose the school their children will attend. As a matter of form, school choice does not give preference to one form of schooling or another, rather manifests itself whenever a student attends school outside of the one they would have been assigned to by geographic default. The most common options offered by school choice programs are open enrollment laws that allow students to attend other public schools, private schools, charter schools, tax credit and deductions for expenses related to schooling, vouchers, and homeschooling. The term has also been used to describe the usage of market forces in order to improve public schools in the United States. The modern school choice movement traces its roots to 1955 when economist Milton Friedman authored the article "The Role of Government in Education." [Cite web |url= |title=Free to Choose |accessdate=2008-08-27 |date=2005-06-09 |publisher="The Wall Street Journal"]


The goal of school choice programs is to give parents more control over their child's education. In doing so, these programs allow parents to pursue the most appropriate learning environments for children. This, in turn, creates competition between schools for students. This competition for students (and the education dollars that come with them) create a catalyst for schools to create innovative programs, become more responsive to parental demands, and to increase student achievement. Another advantage of school choice is that it allows parents to hold schools accountable for student outcomes, and if a school fails to deliver, it can be closed.Fact|date=May 2008

School choice also enables parents to choose, for example, a school that provides religious instruction for their children; stronger discipline; better foundational skills including reading, writing, mathematics, and science; everyday skills from handling money to farming, or other desirable foci. Fact|date=May 2008

Another argument in favor of school choice is based on cost-effectiveness. The Cato Institute cites public statistics for the U.S. costs and quality of education that show privately run education usually costs between one quarter and one half of publicly run education while giving superior outcomes. [Cite web |url= |title=$5000 School Vouchers Would Give Most Students Access to Quality Private Schools |date=2003-09-02 |accessdate=2008-08-27 |publisher=Cato Institute] A voucher or tax credit of about $5,000 would fully cover tuition for 79% of private schools. [Cite web|url= |title=What Does a Voucher Buy? |date=2003-08-28 |last=Salisbury |first=David |accessdate=2008-08-27 |publisher=Cato Institute] Some school choice advocates point to Arizona and Washington state as good examples of how private education costs less for a better product.Cite web |url= |title=Arizona Private Schools Half as Expensive as Public Schools |last=Murray |first=Vicki |publisher=The Heartland Institute |date=2005-03-01 |accessdate=2008-08-27] Cite web |url= |title=K-12 Public Education Spending in Washington |accessdate=2008-08-27 |publisher=Washington Policy] Proponents also often point to the fact that public schools have more money per student than the vast majority of private schools and yet still consistently fail to teach basic reading and math skills, despite a large funding advantage when compared to private schools, spending hovering around $10,000 per student and yearly funding increases. [Cite web |url= |title= Separate And Unequal: New Study Shows High-Minority Schools Teach Reading Poorly |date=1998-03-10 |publisher=The Public Polcy Institute] [Cite web |url= |title= National Spending Per Student Rises to $8,287 |date=2006-04-03 |publisher= U.S. Census Bureau |accessdate=2008-08-27]

Others argue that since children from impoverished families almost exclusively attend public schools, school choice programs would allow these students to opt out of bad schools and acquire a better education, thereby granting the decision-making power to students and their parents, not school administrators. Supporters say this would level the playing field by broadening opportunities for low-income students to attend as good of schools as the middle classes instead of the current two-tiered system which educates the middle and upper classes, but not the lower classes, particularly minorities. [cite web|url=|title=12 million languish in failing public schools, report says|date=2004-08-29|publisher=The Washington Times|accessdate=2008-08-27]


Many opponents of school choicewho argue that public schools perform similarly to private schools when teaching similar groups of students, and that the conception of public schools as "failing" in comparison to private schools is more due to the demographic differences between public and private schools than to actual differences in the quality of the education the schools offer. "School choice" as it entails a switch from public to private schooling would therefore do little to solve the problems facing the educational system, since a private school would perform no better than a public school when faced with the exact same student body.

Opponents of school choice often object to the use of the term itself, viewing it as loaded political vocabulary in the same way that the phrase "death tax" is a misrepresentation of the inheritance tax.

Opponents also argue that school choice in the form of vouchers could result in nothing more than a cash-handout for many middle-class and wealthy families already sending their kids to private schools, with disadvantaged families either unable to secure enrollment or unable to cover costs in addition to the vouchers. [cite web|url=|title=Expanding choice may cost more, hurt poor|last=Schultze|first=Steve|date=1995-03-14|publisher=The Milwaukee Journal|accessdate=2008-08-27] Under voucher programs, private schools may be able to reject students who are expensive to educate due to special needs or students who they feel would disrupt the learning environment, and opponents of voucher programs argue that this would leave such students under a system of de facto segregation. School choice opponents also charge that students who are unable, because of their parents' educational level or the lack of reliable transportation, to leave their local schools may be hurt as additional funding is cut from their schools. [cite book|last=Betts|first=Julian R.|coauthors=Tom Loveless|title=Getting Choice Right|publisher=Brookings Institution Press|date=2005|isbn=0815753314]

When parents flee troubled schools under NCLB's School Choice option, the district loses not only the per-pupil funding, but must provide transportation to the new school. This causes a funding drain that will seriously impact the students left in the school. [cite web|url=|title=Critical Issue: NCLB Option—Choosing to Change Schools|date=2003|publisher=North Central Regional Educational Laboratory|accessdate=2008-08-27]


Different solutions have been proposed to school choice that do not take away money or force schools to compete against each other. If incentive is what is needed, it already exists: the school board is elected by direct popular vote.Fact|date=January 2008 Instead of government forcing school choice, citizens and parents need to become more aware of who runs the schools, and for laws to help improve that awareness.Fact|date=January 2008 Any head of the school board who values their position will likely do everything possible to ensure the school runs better, if citizens are more active in deciding who stays or goes. Supporters of school choice sometimes say that even if the school board were perfect, one school, generally, cannot educate the myriad of different students any more than one company could meet the needs of all consumers.Fact|date=January 2008

International overview


The French government subsidizes most private primary and secondary schools, including those affiliated with religious denominations, under contracts stipulating that education must follow the same curriculum as public schools and that schools cannot discriminate on grounds of religion or force pupils to attend religion classes.

This system of "école libre" (Free Schooling) is mostly used not for religious reasons, but for practical reasons (private schools may offer more services, such as after-class tutoring) as well as the desire of parents living in disenfranchised areas to send their children away from the local schools, where they perceive that the youth are too prone to delinquency or have too many difficulties keeping up with schooling requirements that the educational content is bound to suffer. The threatened repealing of that status in the 1980s triggered mass street demonstrations in favor of the status. Fact|date=January 2008


Ontario is the only large province in Canada with no school choice programs. In 2003, the Conservative government introduced a tax credit worth up to 50% of tuition at any independent school in Ontario. However, the tax credit was retroactively canceled by the subsequent Liberal government. Currently there are over 800 independent schools in Ontario. The only school choice program available to parents who wish to send their children to an independent school is a privately funded program called [ Children First] , a program of The Fraser Institute.


In Chile, there is an extensive voucher system in which the state pays private and municipal schools directly, based on average attendance (90% of the country students utilize such a system). The result has been a steady increase in the number and recruitment of private schools that show consistently better results in standardized testing than municipal schools. The reduction of students in municipal schools has gone from 78% of all students in 1981, to 57% in 1990, and to less than 50% in 2005.

Regarding vouchers in Chile, researchers have found that when controls for the student's background (parental income and education) are introduced, the difference in performance between public and private subsectors is not significant. [cite journal|last=McEwan|first=Patrick J.|coauthors=Martin Carnoy|date=Fall 2000|title=The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Private Schools in Chile's Voucher System|journal=Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis|volume=22|issue=3|pages=213-239|doi=10.3102/01623737022003213] There is also greater variation within each subsector than between the two systems. [cite book|last=Mizala|first=Alejandra |coauthors=Pilar Romaguera|title=Determinación de Factores Explicativos de los Resultados Escolares en Educación Media en Chile|publisher=Centre for Applied Economics, Department of Industrial Engineering, Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Chile|date=August 2000|series=Economy Series No. 85]

United States

School choice in America comes in a few different forms. The different options could be put into these categories: open enrollment, vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, magnet schools and even home schooling.

Open Enrollment

Open enrollment also refers to educational policies which allow residents of a state to enroll their children in any public school, provided the school has not reached its maximum capacity number for students, regardless of the school district in which a family resides.


When the government pays tuition to a private school on behalf of the parents, this is usually referred to as a voucher. Vouchers currently exist in Wisconsin, Cleveland, Florida, and, most recently, the District of Columbiacite web|url=|title=Choices in Education: 2005 Progress Report|last=Kafer|first=Krista|date=2005-04-25|publisher=The Heritage Foundation|accessdate=2008-08-27] and Georgia. The largest and oldest Voucher program is in Milwaukee. Started in 1990, and expanded in 1995, it currently allows no more than 15% of the district's public school enrollment to use vouchers. As of 2005 over 14,000 students use vouchers and they are nearing the 15% cap. [cite web|url=|title=School Choice - Wisconsin|publisher=The Heritage Foundation|accessdate=2008-08-27] School vouchers are legally controversial in some states; in 2005 the Florida Supreme Court found that school vouchers were illegal under the Florida Constitution.

In the U.S., the legal and moral precedents for vouchers may have been set by the G.I. bill, which includes a voucher program for university-level education of veterans. The G.I. bill permits veterans to take their educational benefits at religious schools, an extremely divisive issue when applied to primary and secondary schools.Fact|date=January 2008

In "Zelman v. Simmons-Harris", 536 U.S. 639 (2002), the Supreme Court of the United States held that school vouchers could be used to pay for education in sectarian schools without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. As a result, states are basically free to enact voucher programs that provide funding for any school of the parent's choosing. Fact|date=January 2008

The Supreme Court has not decided, however, whether states can provide vouchers for secular schools only, excluding sectarian schools. Proponents of funding for parochial schools argue that such an exclusion would violate the free exercise clause. However, in "Locke v. Davey", 540 U.S. 712 (2004), the Court held that states could exclude majors in "devotional theology" from an otherwise generally available college scholarship. The Court has not indicated, however, whether this holding extends to the public school context, and it may well be limited to the context of individuals training to enter the ministry. Fact|date=January 2008

Tuition tax credits

A tuition tax credit is similar to most other familiar tax credits. Certain states allow individuals and/or businesses to deduct a certain amount of their income taxes to donate to education. Depending on the program, these donations can either go to a public school or to a School Tuition Organization (STO), or both. The donations that go to public schools are often used to help pay for after-school programs, schools trips, or school supplies. The donations that go to School Tuition Organizations are used by the STO to create scholarships that are then given to students. These programs currently exist in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Arizona has probably the most well known and fastest growing tax credit program. In the Arizona School Tuition Organization Tax Credit program individuals can deduct up to $500 and couples filing joint returns can deduct up to $1000. About 20,000 children received scholarships in the 2003-2004 school year. And, since the program has started in 1998, over 77,000 scholarships have been granted.

Charter schools are public schools with more relaxed rules and regulations. These relaxed rules tend to deal with things like Teacher Union contracts and state curriculum. The majority of states (and the District of Columbia) have Charter School laws. Minnesota was the first state to have a charter school law and the first charter school in the United States, City Academy, opened in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992. [cite web|url=|title=Clinton touts success of public charter schools|date=2000-05-04|publisher=CNN|accessdate=2008-08-27]

Dayton, Ohio has between 22-26% of all children in Charter Schools. [cite web|url=|title=Catholic schools: Victims of choice|last=Elliot|first=Scott|date=2005-12-02|publisher=Dayton Daily News|accessdate=2008-08-27] This is the highest percentage in the nation. Other hotbeds for Charter Schools are Kansas City (24%), Washington, D.C. (20-24%) and the State of Arizona. Almost 1 in 4 public schools are Charter Schools in Arizona and about 8% of total enrollment.

Charter Schools can also come in the form of Cyber Charters. Cyber charter schools deliver the majority of their instruction over the internet instead of in a school building. And, like charter schools, they are public schools, but free of many of the rules and regulations that public schools must follow.

Magnet schools

Magnet schools are public schools that often have a specialized function like science, technology or art. These magnet schools, unlike charter schools, are not open to all children. Much like many private schools, the students must test into the school.

Home schooling

When a child is educated at home, or is having his or her education instructed or directed primarily by a parent, then this is usually referred to as Home Education or Home Schooling. Home Education has obviously been around for a very long time, but in the last 20 years the number of children being educated at home has grown tremendously. The laws relevant to Home Education differ throughout the country. In some states the parent simply needs to notify the state that the child will be educated at home. In other states the parents are not free to educate at home unless at least one parent is a certified teacher and yearly progress reports are reviewed by the state. According to the Federal Government, about 1.1 million children were Home Educated in 2003. [cite web|url=|title=1.1 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2003|publisher=National Center for Education Statistics|accessdate=2008-08-27]

See also

*Alternative school
*Charter school
*Magnet school
*Home schooling
*Calfee School Guide


External links

* [ School Choice in the UK]
* [ State by State Implementation of School Choice]
* [ School Choice in Sweden: Lessons for Canada]
* [,2347,en_2649_34511_1_1_1_1_1,00.html OECD Country Reviews in Education]
* [ The Future of School Choice]
* [ Private Schools in Denmark]
* [ Myth Conceptions School Choice]
* [ Criticism of Government Vouchers]
* [ School Choice Myths]
* [ School Vouchers]
* [ Center for Education Reform]
* [ Public School Choice] - National PTA

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