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School Choice Debate

The debate about school choice is a complicated issue. School choice is a multi-faceted cluster of education reform items. Keep reading for an overview of the arguments.

Advocates of school choice would say that it embraces alternative school types, school vouchers, and flexible options for the education of children in K-12 schools. Opponents voice concerns that school choice could undercut the public school system, that it’s financially untenable, and that - in some instances - it gives schools with a religious affiliation an inappropriate role given the United State separation of church and state.

School Choice Debate: Pro

Supporters of choice in the school choice debate encourage offering parents choices for the schooling of their children. The choices may be intradistrict, or within a district; interdistrict, or between districts; or open enrollment, which means that parents can choose any school in their state. The choices may be limited to “regular” public schools, or include the alternative public schools with specialized programs called “Magnet schools,” and/or publicly sponsored “Charter schools,” which are freed from many types of control, but held to strict standards of accountability, as well as private schools, both secular and those with religious affiliation.

Supporters in the school choice debate also make the point that different children have different needs, and choice allows parents to suit the choice to the child, bringing - they say - the accountability that we usually enjoy as consumers into the realm of education. They also say that school choice only gives lower-income families some of the same options as wealthy families, who are more easily able to pay private school tuition or the charges for educating a child in an out-of-district school or simply buy a home in a good school district.

Scholarship programs can make choice a possibility, as do tax vouchers and tuition tax credits and deductions. No Child Left Behind mandates an intradistrict transfer option for low-income children.

School Choice Debate: Con

The opposition in the school choice debate points out that it’s different for a brand of soup or paper clips to fail than for a school to fail. That is, it’s okay for some products to be driven out of the market if they don’t stand up to consumer scrutiny and buyers abandon them, but this model doesn’t apply to schools.

In addition, opponents in the school choice debate point out that not every child would be able to leave a poor school, and vying for the opportunity to go elsewhere could pit families against each other. In the meantime, the failing school, rather than gaining assistance to be able to address its problematic issues is likely to lose funding as students hurry away to another school.

Other opponents point to situations in which students have no other viable choice - due to location, the condition of the schools, or other factors - and creating a situation in which choice, rather than school improvement, is expected to fix things would be a disservice to these students.

When private schools enter the school choice debate, then opponents question whether tax dollars should be spent at institutions that teach belief systems as part of their curriculum, and the separation of church and state becomes an issue.

A Third Approach

Some people take a different approach to the school choice debate: they decide to home school their children or use online schooling options. Virtual schools (distance education) and home schools are not always mentioned as elements in the school choice debate, but they can certainly be viewed in this light.

Besides this, there is the possibility of combining one of these options with part-time participation in a public or private school: either in its academics or extracurricular activities, or both.

The school choice debate arouses such strong feelings - as parents feel that their childrens’ futures are at stake - and such different views, that it is unlikely that any resolution is forthcoming. But as more people gain experience with the options and more research is done, it is possible that more light will be shed on the really important question in the matter: what’s best for families and children.


The Center for Education Reform:

Education Week “Choice”

Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management (CEPM) “Trends and Issues: School Choice”