School Choice and Social Justice

By Harry Brighouse | Go to book overview
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2 The Case for Choice

Introduction

School choice is the leading idea of educational reform in the English-speaking world today. Since the late 1970s it has not only been a central policy prescription of the new right, but also one that has helped to forge the coalition of conservatives and libertarians that has kept the new right politically viable. The idea that parents should choose which schools their children attend neatly appeals to both the ideological commitment to the market of the libertarian right and the 'family values' agenda of genuine conservatives, thus helping to diffuse the profound disagreements these two groups have about the proper content and goals of the educational curriculum.

In practice, the policy has had variable success. The England and Wales—henceforth referred to as the UK, with apologies—Education Reform Act (ERA) of 1988 embodies a highly regulated version of school choice, which allows parents to choose among government-run schools all of which are constrained by a detailed national curriculum, and which also gives schools the power to select among applicants. In 1989 New Zealand adopted a set of reforms devolving to public schools far more responsibility for how they were run. It has recently adopted a pilot programme whereby disadvantaged children are funded by the government to attend private schools chosen by their parents. Similar reforms have been adopted by many states in Australia, and the Federal Australian government subsidizes all private schools, with the size of the subsidy determined by the mission and the resources of the school in question. 1

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