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Making the Case for School Choice in the Suburbs

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Surburban parents want school choice, too, writes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, in an online essay. And if policymakers who support public schools are smart, they'll give those parents what they want.

Petrilli says that school choice—he seems to be focusing here on public school choice, specifically—is the best way to address the myriad demands of relatively affluent, demanding uber-parents. What those parents crave, he says, is educational customization for their children: a school that can provide heavy doses of AP and IB and high standards (the "Tiger" moms and dads, he says), or, alternately, a school that's heavy on promoting creativity, personal expression and the like (the "Koala" parents), or a multicultural, multilingual bent (who he describes as the "cosmopolitan" ones).

Ultimately, providing families with greater choices of schools can make it easier for a suburban district, or a group of them, to offer a suitably diverse menu to families who are making different demands, he argues.

Much of the school choice discussion today, as Petrilli points out, focuses on trying to increase options for disadvantaged students stuck in failing schools, or on choice as a means to pressure public schools to do better. Taxpayers may wonder why increasing choice in the suburbs is necessary. After all, if suburbanites want choice, can't they just pay for private schools? But essentially forcing dissatisfied suburban parents to shop for private options is no way to build overall support for the public school system, he says.

Let's assume there's pent-up demand for greater choice in suburban districts. I'll ask readers of this blog: How would it work, and what would it look like? Would the best option simply be to increase choice, restructure schools, and programs within districts— or increase choice across them? What kinds of suburban schools would benefit in a choice-rich environment? And what types of schools—other than presumably lower-performing ones—would lose out?

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