How effective is school choice?

Watching the trailer for the recent documentary Waiting for Superman, about our floundering public school system, is enough to make a school-choice activist out of anyone:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKTfaro96dg 635×355]

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, says the movie is right to highlight the benefits of school choice, but that choice alone won’t fix the system:

Overpromising leads inevitably to disappointment. When it comes to raising test scores, the grail of most reformers, school choice’s record is still ambiguous. For every charter school success story like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the KIPP network — both touted in Guggenheim’s documentary — there’s a charter school where scores are worse than the public school status quo. The same is true for vouchers and merit pay: the jury is still out on whether either policy consistently raises academic performance.

This doesn’t mean that school choice doesn’t work, [AEI education scholar Frederick] Hess argues. It just means that the benefits are often more modest and incremental than many reformers want to think. They can be measured in money saved (both charter and private schools usually spend much less per pupil than their public competitors), in improved graduation rates, and in higher parental and student satisfaction. But they don’t always show up in test scores.

 

This insight leads to Hess’s second argument — that if reformers want to see more than modest academic improvements, they need to set more ambitious goals. The theory of school choice is the theory of the free market: monopoly breeds mediocrity, and more competition should make all the competitors improve. But in practice, even the more ambitious school choice experiments have protected the public school system from the rigors of real competition.

Read on to see what Hess and Douthat recommend. Something tells me the teachers’ unions won’t approve.

Margaret Cabaniss

By

Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU