May 22 2014
The Evidence on School Choice is Elementary: It Works
Vicki E. Alger
A forthcoming Hoover Institution book edited by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Richard Sousa, What Lies Ahead for America’s Children and Their Schools, helps detail why letting parents pick their children’s schools works. In a recent Education Next article chapter author Herbert J. Walberg explains some of the reasons why:
One reason choice schools (private and charter) outperform their nearby traditional public schools is that they tend to be smaller. The parents, students, and staff are more likely to know each other. …Since they are free of most dysfunctional federal and state regulations, private and charter schools can readily develop programs that are appealing to the students and their families in the community. Should they fail to do so, they are likely to lose students. Continued failure may mean closure, leaving better schools to prosper.
Choice schools, moreover, need not hire teachers on the basis of governmental criteria used by public schools such as the number of education courses completed. They may heavily weigh advanced academic study and experience in the real world. Seldom unionized, moreover, choice schools pay teachers according to their contributions and performance. They may remove teachers who don’t pull their weight.
Unlike traditional public schools, choice schools often restrict the curriculum largely to mathematics, science, English, a foreign language, history, political science, art, and music followed by all students, which best prepares them for college, careers, and citizenship. Avoiding the vast course miscellany and multiple specializations within large traditional public high schools, choice school students share a common academic and psychological experience.
Oftentimes, poor student or school-wide performance is blamed on a lack of parental involvement. But involving parents needs to start by empowering them to choose the schools their children attend—regardless of families’ incomes or addresses. We cherish what we choose, and if we were to make every school nationwide a school of choice—rather than an accident of geography—students, their families, teachers, and taxpayers would all be a lot better off.