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Saving School Choice?


"Scholars need to abandon the stance that [school] choice will inevitably prove itself, and get to work on the obvious problems," Paul T. Hill writes in a recent Education Week Commentary.

Overcoming the school choice movement's obstacles, Mr. Hill argues, will require new investment strategies for public and private funds. He also recommends developing innovative instructional techniques, teacher and administrator training, and charter-management organizations, as well as working with the business community to learn ways of handling staff turnover without compromising quality education.

What do you think? What are the school choice movement's "obvious problems"? How can they be overcome?


Mr. Hill's article had some interesting points but as I read it, I couldn't help but think about the fundemental basis for public schools vs. schools of choice whether they be charter schools, private schools, or home schools. First of all, public schools have as their mission to educate "All" students. So in most public schools there are programs for Special Education as well as the gifted. Schools of Choice's mission is to educate just a small segment of the school aged population, whatever the choices school determines to meet there admission critera. Just that difference alone between public schools is enough to cause serious doubt about how schools of choice can be built up because schools of choice will never except the mission of educating all students. Educating all students is a huge task that is largely underfunded yet is fundemental to us as Americans. Public schools have been the foundation of an open and diverse society in spite of all the problems public schools have had to face throughout the years. I don't see how taking a group of students in a charter school, seperating them from the rest of society, can benefit our country, which is already fractured enough. If there were a way to create schools of choice which would be open to all, I'd think about supporting the movement but I believe in equality for all and the public schools in our country are the best way to instill that value in our children. All other arguements about why schools of choice should be implemented I have a hard time wanting to listen too because I don't believe their advocates have fully addressed how they'd meet the needs of all students like our public schools at least attempt to do and have as their mission to do.

The key word is choice. Schools of choice are schools that are chosen for one reason or another by parents for the education they provide. There are few communities in the United States of America that do not actually have school choice already in place. The school of choice may be a parochial school, a private academy, or home schooling. Yes, private schools can be costly, but to the poarent desiring a private school education for their children, it is a worthy sacrifice. The setting up of publically funded school choices, like charter schools, has the effect of draining the public school budget, with little demonstrated improvement in service. The public school system, in general is doing and has been doing a very good job of educating the majority of U.S. children. Choice is a luxury, and luxuries should be paid for by those choosing them.
Private and charter schools, as well as homeschools should be held to the same standards that public schools are. Parents making these choices should bear the cost of the choice.

What do you mean when you say "private and charter schools, as well as homeschoolers should be held to the same standards that public schools are"?

People leave public schools because they DON'T LIKE the standards.

The government doesn't own your mind. Nor does it own your children. It has no right to dictate how your children are educated in a private setting. Can you clarify what you meant?

Some people want a more rigorous, back-to-basics curiculum. Others want to allow their children freedom to explore topics of their own choosing. There is no uniform agreement as to what constitutes a quality education-there never will be. There is no one right path for all.

As a recently retired public school teacher, I wouldn't send my own kids to public schools because I don't think today's standards are in their best interest. I don't think public schools (and most private schools) bring out the best in the individual.

The best alternative, though the most difficult economically, is homeschooling.

Let’s eliminate the confusion. There is a BIG difference between “School of choice’ and “Schools of choice. In our district parents can remove their children from failing schools to a “School of choice, if allowed by the school board, “Schools of Choice” are increasing in number and opening the education gap. Few make AYP even though they are state rated “A” or “B”. To enter one of these schools the student must be at or above grade level. Those below grade level are grouped on a lesser school

"The public school system, in general is doing and has been doing a very good job of educating the majority of U.S. children". I have to disagree with this statement. I believe the public school system (and most private school systems) is doing a very good job of SCHOOLING the majority of U.S. children, but a very poor job of educating them. Rather than elaborate on why I believe this, I refer the interested reader to writings by John Taylor Gatto and Harvey Graff. But for my own two cents on the topic of choice: as a parent of children in private schools, the clear advantages are smaller class sizes and freedom from NCLB. We *HOPE* that the quality of teachers and education is better, but that is not a "given".

I believe meaningful choice requires a concession of the fundamental failings of the current school model, and foray into dramatically different models. Examples of this include Montessori (which I would choose) and KIPP (which I would not choose because I feel that longer days and shorter weekends are hard enough on adults and unnecessary for kids - that said, the program is successful and would be a great choice for many). Unfortunately, there are too few of these choices and they are limited by geography, finances, and enrollment. I would like to see more meaningful choices more readily available.

Finally an analogy - most school choices are like choosing between a Yugo or a Toyota. If you're lucky (read rich), you may get to choose a Maserati. But if what you want for your children is a rocket-ship, or even a hiking trail, it's the wrong market.

Private and home schools, the ultimate in private schools, has at least a duty to meet the graduation requirements of the state. That is what I mean when I say they should be held similarly accountable to standards, In my state, Pennsylvania, there a number of religious groups that do not educate to state standards. Neither do their children go on to colleges or universities.
One certainly does have the freedom and the right to educate one's own children in whatever way one sees fit. If this education does not match that of the state system, so be it. Freedom can be a double edged sword.
My point is that private education is just that, private. A parent choosing private education for their child should not expect public financial support for the choice. This undermines the public school system.

Bob, in your last post you wrote:

"Private and home schools, the ultimate in private schools, has at least a duty to meet the graduation requirements of the state."


We don't agree with the graduation requirements / standards of the state, that's why we left the state schools.

The government doesn't control you Bob. The government is supposed to serve you.

Matt, the "duty" I refer to is the duty to the student that wishes to proceed on from the elementary and secondary school level. That is the other side of the "double edged sword". Not meeting the requirements of the state will mean not graduating with a state certified diploma. Agree or not, that diploma is one of the keys to higher education. You may teach whatever you want to teach, in whatever format you wish. There ae consequences to every choice. Some consequences are positive and some are negative. This is not a matter of government control or control of the government. We, the people ARE the government.
You may, in fact, open your own school, grant your own diplomas, open a college and grant your own degrees. This is still a free country after all. There are challenges to taking any alternative path however and one must be up to the challenges if one wisjes to travel those paths. If one chooses to veer off to the right or left while most of the people stay in the middle, it is not the fault of theose that took the middle route when things go awry for those who choose a different way.

I disagree with Professor Hill’s premise in his article using the analogy of the Communist Russian Government struggles to introduce a market-based system in their society and comparing it to the problems with embracing viable educational choices in America. While Hill’s understanding of Russia’s problems may be correct the difference between communist/socialist Russia and our socialist education system differs by Russia removing the barriers to entrance in the market. Conversely, America’s education system has unlimited political support and legislation that prohibits viable choice here in America. Although, I appreciate Hill’s attitude to implement strategy in training and investment to cultivate choice in America, choice in education definitely needs to be cultivated, but I feel that it is premature to cite problems in the limited choices that are available at this time.

I also disagree with the statement regarding, “…the philanthropists who thought that good schools could be replicated quickly in large numbers….” I have never heard any of the philanthropists including Bill and Melinda Gates, Andre Agassi, or anyone else make such a claim. But what has been obvious to me is that they want to show people in this country that there are other ways to provide a more meaningful education to prepare children for the global economy. Their schools will continue to thrive and their children will have the opportunities that most public schooled children will not.

Before approaching the topic of improvements to the educational choices that exist in education today—the legislative barriers has to be removed; i.e., control of the tax dollars. When barriers to entrance into the education market are removed the quality of education will increase and cost to education will go down; that’s economics 101 in a purely competitive market.

As a resident of Pennsylvania I have studied extensively the status of education in this state. In response to anyone who would support public school in this state I would like to list the status of our state according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Pennsylvania is in the 31st position of 50 states. If that doesn’t sound the alarm maybe the fact that our state supported public education for 2005-2006 school year to the tune of $17 BILLION! We Pennsylvanians paid $17 billion to be in the 31st position! What is obvious to me, but not to the vast majority in my state, is that Pennsylvania standards are near the lowest in the nation. Additionally, 20% of students in the Pennsylvania public school system don’t make it to graduation.

So when I hear someone go off on that tangent about standards implemented in the public school system and make authoritative statements that all schools should be held to that standard I become rightfully furious. I shake my head in despair that people here in this country are clueless. Those few of us that have bit the bullet and funded our own children’s private education know that public school standards are inadequate for preparing our children for the future and the global economy.

How disheartening that we are still—after almost 25 years since the report titled "The Nation at Risk," in dispute with the vast majorities belief that the public school system works for most Americans. These people are oblivious to the fact that the standards that their states’ education department has implemented are low. So low that our federal government has decided to stay out of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), announced a few weeks ago. This international study is published every four years listing mathematics and science test scores for 4th and 8th grade student achievement levels. The last time America participated our children were anywhere from the sixth to the fifteenth position in math and science compared to other countries.

The National Center on the Education and the Economy has also produced an alarming report in 2006 that I recommend everyone in this country should read. The report is titled, "Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce." This commission’s portrayal of the current status of education and the economy is dismal, but no surprise to me. I’ve known for some time that 60% of the American population is the working poor or at poverty level, and that percentage is growing. This statistic is a direct result of an ineffective primary and secondary education system, a system that was designed to meet the needs of an industrialized nation—but failed to see that we had entered the technology era for over thirty years now. Our politicians, educators, and parents have been on cruse control for these thirty years and haven’t realized that they have driven off a cliff.

I am resentful that families, including mine, have been held hostage to this system, that I don’t have any control over MY OWN TAX DOLLARS!! For years I’ve tried to opt out by paying for private schools for my daughters only to find myself in debt with no more funds to tap into.

Yes, Professor Hill lets look at the problems honestly, it is premature to try to fix a movement that has barely gotten a foothold.


Harriet Winters

Kudos to the hard work of professionals all over the US, in the NCLB initiative, working under the taken-for-granted assumption that efficiency in education as more students/more periods of instruction per day.
Add up all the City, State and Federal funds that have gone into the NCLB/School Choice dipole, and we could have upgraded instruction by lowering class size to 15 all over the country, K-12. Accountability? Who would have cared, with that level of personal attention...
Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

For a comprehensive reform proposal see www.Thistle-Seed.com/Campaign.htm

I'm not sure what the legal basis is for "Free and APPROPRIATE Education", but this seems to me solid justification for meaningful school choice. What exactly is APPROPRIATE, and who defines it?

It's quite clear to many parents of gifted/talented children that age-based progression is inappropriate for their children, but they have to depend on hopefully adequate identification for minimal access to more appropriate programs. I was told by my state and county officials that the identification process for "early" admission to Kindergarten is set to ensure that "no child enters Kindergarten early unless that child is ready for first grade". The identification process is *DEFINED* to ensure that gifted children receive an inappropriate education!

Perhaps "appropriate" was defined on a community level - there are scholars out there who write about how compulsory schooling was designed to control education rather then disseminate it. If "appropriate" was defined to ensure that industries had flocks of compliant employees, this is clearly outdated and needs to change.

Conspiracy theories aside, parents know what is appropriate for their children better than any politician or administrator ever will, and a one-size-fits-all policy can never be appropriate for enough children.

The legal basis for Free and Appropriate Public Education is the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and its precursers. It established the right of students with disabilities to a public education suited to their needs. It has further been defined through court actions. The notion of "meeting full potential" has generally been turned aside in favor of "receiving some benefit," except in a few states who have included full potential language in their regs. The analogy is generally that a student with disabilities is not entitled to a Cadillac, but rather a serviceable Chevy. In my cynical experience a bus pass for public transport is more likely.

I know less about gifted ID at the national level--it may only be defined state by state. My state has recently issued guidelines that encourage advancement (I forget the technical term for what we used to call skipping a grade) of gifted students--as well as clarifying what can and cannot be used as determining criteria.

thanks for the clarification. I guess my interpretation was wishful thinking.

Harriet Winters is exactly correct.

In 1985, after both the public and private schools in Wichita Falls, TX, proved to be inadequate to serve my children's needs, I opened a private school. I felt that was the only choice open to me, since I did not feel I could adequately serve my 4 children's needs by homeschooling. The private school was converted into a Texas public charter school in 1998.

The public education lobby has spent millions of dollars to further the misinformation that charter schools can choose their students. Charter schools do have missions and specific focuses, but they are public schools, and are required to take all children. The only restriction that charter schools are allowed to choose to adopt is a restriction on students with criminal histories, adjudication, or documented discipline problems. This restriction was added after a large school district instituted a practice of sending its criminals and gang members to the fledgling charter schools. However, many charter schools in Texas do not choose to adopt this exclusion, because their mission is to educate students at risk of dropping out.

In Texas, charter schools receive up to 75% of the funds that the regular public schools get, yet are held to the same standards of accountability. The charter schools still have to attract good teachers and staff, but do not have the funds the other schools have. So instead of complaining about the "draining of funds", regular public schools should be happy about the use of the up to 25% of funds for students they don't even have in their system.

The whole purpose of having school choice is to give the parents the ability to "vote with their feet", because parents do not feel they have any control over their children's education. Parents know best how their children learn, and schools need to pay attention to what the parents want. The public school system is a monopoly that needs to be broken up. However, true school change will never happen until the schools feel the bite from competition. The number of charter and voucher schools has to reach a large enough number that it really affects the regular public schools.

One of the reasons I started the school is that I read "A Nation at Risk", and saw no hope for my children if they stayed either in the public school or in the private schools my oldest had attended. There was really not much difference between the two. The sad thing is, 22 years later, parents come visit the school with the exact same story and experiences that I had before I started the school. Nothing has changed in 22 years.

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Recent Comments

  • Lynda Plummer, Founder, Bright Ideas Charter: Harriet Winters is exactly correct. In 1985, after both the read more
  • Cheryl - Radar Engineer/Math Teacher/Parent: Margo, thanks for the clarification. I guess my interpretation was read more
  • Margo/Mom: The legal basis for Free and Appropriate Public Education is read more
  • Cheryl - Radar Engineer/Math Teacher/Parent: I'm not sure what the legal basis is for "Free read more
  • Andrew J. Van Camp II: For a comprehensive reform proposal see www.Thistle-Seed.com/Campaign.htm read more




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