Charter School Reform:
Broadening the Terms of Debate
School choice has become a buzzword of education reform over the past decade. Intra-district choice plans, magnet schools, pilot schools, charter schools, and voucher schemes represent only a few of the many forms that school choice iniatives can take. Although each form of school choice offers specific advantages and disadvantages, and raises particular questions and concerns, some common threads run throughout the choice movement. As Peter Cookson explains,
[the] common denominator is that [choice plans] encourage or require students and their families to become actively engaged in choosing schools. Whereas previously most American families simply sent their children to their neighborhood schools, the implementation of choice plans makes it possible for students to attend schools inside or outside their district, and sometimes even outside their city or town. 1
Debate about various school choice options also exhibits some commonalities. Advocates of choice, for instance, emphasize parental rights and the benefits of a marketplace of competition and diversity. Critics of choice, on the other hand, worry that among other things the common mission of public schools is being abandoned and that choice will resegregate schools along any number of demographic characteristics.
Within the context of a wider school choice movement, this book is concerned first and foremost with the democratizing potential of charter school reform. This book does not assess whether school choice as a monolithic entity is desirable, nor does it compare charter school initiatives directly with other choice options such as vouchers. Rather, this book investigates education reform discourse in its particular manifestation within debates surrounding charter schooling. 2