The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program

The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program

The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program

The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program


Milwaukee, one of the nation's most segregated metropolitan areas, implemented in 1990 a school choice program aimed at improving the education of inner-city children by enabling them to attend a selection of private schools. The results of this experiment, however, have been overshadowed by the explosion of emotional debate it provoked nationwide. In this book, John Witte provides a broad yet detailed framework for understanding the Milwaukee experiment and its implications for the market approach to American education. In a society supposedly devoted to equality of opportunity, the concept of school choice or voucher programs raises deep issues about liberty versus equality, government versus market, and about our commitment to free and universal education. Witte brings a balanced perspective to the picture by demonstrating why it is wrongheaded to be pro- or anti-school choice in the abstract. He explains why the voucher program seems to be working in the specific case of Milwaukee, but warns that such programs would not necessarily promote equal education--and most likely harm the poor--if applied universally, across the socioecon


In policy, politics, and social science, there are two intellectual approaches to problems and debates. the first begins with an answer and then works back to evidence and the construction of a supportive logical argument. the second begins with a question and then searches for evidence and data to prove or disprove the proposition behind the question.

Both approaches are legitimate. the former guided many of the most important political writings that affect the modern world. For Americans, The Declaration of Independence and The Federalist Papers come immediately to mind. in the early twentieth century, the latter form of inquiry, characteristic of the hard sciences as early as the eighteenth century, was enthusiastically adopted by the social and behavioral sciences. But in the latter half of the twentieth century, with challenges from linguistic theorists and postmodernist critics who questioned the ability of any objective social science, the question-oriented approach to research came under fire. the snarling cynical label of “positivism” was the battle cry of opponents.

I hope that this study is viewed primarily as being of the second, positivist form. Looking back on the last ten years, I wish that I could have begun with an answer rather than a question. This book would have been written sooner, it would have been simpler, and my life would have been much easier. But then how could I say to my students, who usually come to me with a “dissertation argument,” that dissertations start with a question, not a conclusion?

Unfortunately, while my devotion to positivism is not diminished, this study may not be the finest example of that intellectual genre. Although this book is replete with quantitative and other systematic evidence, much of what I have come to know, or believe, has not been based on hard scientific research. Rather it is based on carefully listening and observing and questioning in an offhanded manner. and some of the most strongly presented conclusions of this book are based on pulling together strands of actions, results, and inferred motives-not quite the stuff of hard science.

And, in the text that follows, although I am rarely present except in the third person or expert mode, I have been a part of this. I was appointed in September 1990 as the State of Wisconsin evaluator of the Milwaukee voucher program, which was the first voucher program in America. the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Bert Grover . . .

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