The "Best" of School Choice

In this economy, perhaps the most pervasive argument against school choice is that “it will drain money from the public schools and hurt children most in need of state help.” What do I say to that?
Why do so many oppose school choice initiatives? Or do they? Perhaps we Texans hear a lot of opposition to school choice because we generally hear from those with a stake in maintaining the status quo or who know little about education beyond the standardized model. Actually, I find that most parents would like to be able to choose their child’s school. Fortunately, efforts to enable more parents choose their child’s school are currently being debated in the Texas legislature. One proposal removes the cap on the number of charter schools in Texas and another introduces a tax credit scholarship program to help low-income families to attend private schools.
Unfortunately, many local school boards and principals just signed a proclamation condemning all school choice initiatives that seemed to touch “their” money. They oppose school choice on grounds of “fairness” and the fear of loosing some financial resources. They think it is unfair that private and charter schools are not burdened with the same bureaucratic controls and regulations that interfere with their own efforts.

As to the funding issue, perhaps their fears are justified. Public money is currently used to keep families in schools they are dissatisfied with, but with tax credits, vouchers, and charter school options, many families will move to schools they consider superior. Public education is currently a government-subsidized monopoly, and yes, when monopolies are challenged, they make a lot of noise to discredit their competition and loose money when dissatisfied “customers” go elsewhere. Yes, school choice threatens to divert money from “big box” schools and downsizing is painful, but if the quality of education goes up, children and the public gain.

Though many issues cloud the school choice debate, the real issue is, “Does school choice improve education?” In short, yes! Research links school choice with improved academic success. The freedom for families to choose schools tends to increase parental involvement in their child’s education–one of the vital keys to academic success. School choice also creates competitive forces that have been demonstrated to motivate schools to be more responsive to parent concerns.

With this said, I have not yet addressed the real issue that I believe should motivate school choice. We all desire the very best education for our own children and those of others. The problem is, who should define what the “best” education is–the state or the child’s parents? Some seem to think children should be thoroughly versed in test taking skills, common concepts of morality, and generalized “relevant” knowledge. Others believe their children’s “best” education should deeply expose them to the great thoughts and accomplishments of history, or that education should reflect their religious beliefs and values in a manner that provides a context for academic knowledge and life meaning. Whereas choice opponents constrain all children to read the same secular texts and attend the same classes, school choice supporters open the door for parents to evaluate and choose a “best” education for their children.

Those hoping to preserve the educational status quo like to argue that they alone (with enough money) can provide the “best” education for all children, or they demonize their opponents by labeling them as separatist, bigots, or self-interested elitists, which is far from the truth. School choice proponents represent all financial, racial, and political demographics; they represent the concern of every parent to provide a meaningful education for their own children and to provide the opportunity for other parents to choose the same. It is right that citizens should be concerned about the education of our nation’s children, but our concern should focus on providing children with the “best” educational opportunities rather than insuring the financial security of a bureaucratically entrenched education system that is likely nobody’s “best.”
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