School Choice became a big talking point in the late 1970s in the United States when it was first introduced. Many considered it to be the savior of the education system, while other people described it as "the next big myth" and it continues to have many opponents.
School choice represents a major method of educational reform in the English-speaking world. The concept is simple: school choice allows parents to choose which schools their child or children attend. That choice is seen as a way to transform the educational system in a certain country.
The major aim of school choice is to enhance educational quality through competition. School choice targets an overall improvement in public education, regardless of its form and structure in a certain country or state. Many researchers argue that it can provide a solution to issues such as falling achievement test scores or high dropout rates.
Supporters believe it works by taking control of education away from state legislatures and school boards. It seeks to eliminate the governing structures of schools and thus achieve decentralization and deregulation. One can say that school choice turns education into an educational marketplace. Schools simply provide the educational "product" to parents and students, which are seen as "customers."
Those who support school choice as a way to bring positive change to the educational system believe that parents know what is best for their children. In general greater parent involvement in education is considered a path towards citizenship. Still many argue that turning education into a marketplace might introduce the idea that it is a private good. That notion contradicts the traditional views of primary and secondary education as a public good.
In the United Kingdom parents can choose from government-controlled or private schools. School choice is well regulated, as all of the state schools follow a detailed national curriculum. There is a diverse range of programs in the educational systems of both New Zealand and Australia. Some are similar to the models used in the United Kingdom, while others follow a different system of education.
Historically there have been two substantial efforts in the United States to change the structure of public education as to equalize education opportunities - school desegregation and school finance reform. Both reforms sought to eliminate the psychological or financial boundaries that separated schools and school districts. School desegregation's aim was to erase the boundaries that existed between traditionally white and traditionally black schools. The school finance reform, on the other hand, sought to adjust the resources available to all schools within a state so that they are equal and thus to remove the financial boundaries between rich and poor schools.
Public and private school choice can be examined as related to both school desegregation and school finance. It represents the next major attempt to restructure public education so that all students face equal opportunities. There are four principal varieties of school choice in the United States - intradistrict public school choice; interdistrict public school choice; charter schools; and voucher plans.
Intradistrict public school choice allows students to attend a non-neighborhood school within one school district. It is the most popular variety of school choice after what could be labeled residential school choice. In contrast, interdistrict public school choice allows the movement across district boundaries. There are two types of interdistrict public school choice - statewide open enrollment programs and targeted urban-suburban choice plans aimed at racial integration. However, that variety of school choice has not proved to be very successful.
A charter school is neither a public nor a private school, but a kind of combination of both. These types of schools are publicly funded, tuition-free and nonsectarian. They operate under a contract between the school and the chartering agency. The latter can be the local school board, a state agency or a state-designated agency. Charter schools can be newly established ones, converted public schools or converted private schools.
There are various programs in the United States that include school vouchers. In its essence the system is also simple - parents receive school vouchers that they can use at private schools, including faith schools. Many people have opposed this variety of school choice on constitutional grounds. All attempts to provide vouchers on a large scale have failed. According to voucher opponents, the voucher system weakens public schools, as it takes away certain amounts of financial resources and gives them to parents whose children were already attending private schools.