America Goes to School: Law, Reform, and Crisis in Public Education

By Robert M. Hardaway | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
The Reform Movements

SCHOOL CHOICE

Most of the educational-type reform proposals, such as school choice, magnets, and vouchers, are all variations of a strategy of abandonment--that is, they are premised on the underlying assumption that most public schools are beyond redemption. Schemes are then conceived in which children of parents who are best able to take advantage of the scheme can get their children into the best available schools. The concept of choice then serves as a fig leaf for what would otherwise be considered unfair, and educationally or constitutionally unsound. Unfortunately, however, such schemes usually turn out to be zero-sum games in the sense that ultimately only a few can go to the "best" schools.

Take, for example, the concept of choice as proposed by John Chubb and Terry Moe in their widely qouted book Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. 1 This book built on an earlier model of economic efficiency developed by renowned economist Milton Friedman--namely, that "if parents could choose any school, with state support through vouchers, this would break the monopoly of the public schools and increase educational competition." 2 Friedman's ideas were based on the sound economic principles of competition. If consumers had a choice, they would take their business to the producers who provided the best service at the lowest cost. Successful enterprises would then thrive, while the unsuccessful ones would fail or wither on the vine. In a strictly economic sense, the choice schemes that have been tentatively implemented by some legislatures have confirmed the soundness of theory--that is, parents (the consumers) have flocked to the best schools to try to get their children admitted.

For example, when a magnet/choice plan was implemented in San Francisco, parents with high socioeconomic status quickly discerned which schools were the best and attempted to get their children admitted. Since the student demand exceeded the number of seats available in such schools, however, the best schools had the luxury

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