Choice is winning

Greg Anrig is smart, eloquent and likable, as was his dad, whose memory I cherish. (His mom is pretty terrific, too.) But he's overhasty in declaring that the voucher movement has "stalled" and not until you get to the end of his long piece does he acknowledge the larger point, which is that school choice in its infinite variety is accelerating and that the voucher movement is largely to thank for that.

A majority of U.S. students now study either in bona fide ???schools of choice??? or in neighborhood schools that their parents chose with a realtor's help. That's an amazing change since I was a schoolboy in the fifties and a very positive one. The pity is that the girls and boys with the least access to decent education options today are poor and minority youngsters trapped in wretched urban school systems.

Those are the kids being helped by vouchers in Milwaukee and D.C. and Ohio--and who would be helped in myriad other places if Greg and his friends would allow this to happen (and if a bunch of states would repeal their nativist, anti-Catholic "Blaine Amendments").

I surely do not suggest that vouchers are the only worthwhile form of school choice, much less that the mere existence of vouchers leads to improved student achievement. The schools have to be worth attending, too, places where quality teaching and learning occur. That's true of many but not all private schools, just as it's true of some but not nearly enough district-run schools (and public-sector schools of choice). Yes, I've come in recent years to appreciate, along with Sol Stern and others, that choice alone is no cure-all and that "structural" reformers often don't pay enough attention to curriculum, instruction, and suchlike. It's true that kids need both (and more).?? But it's just as true, I think even truer, that public education's panoply of interest groups remains far keener to defend the wretched status quo than either to liberate more kids to attend better schools or radically to transform what happens inside the schools they're defending. Greg more or less recognizes this--and at the very end of his piece he makes one suggestion I heartily endorse: break down the district barriers that limit the (public) school choice options afforded by NCLB.

Choice is winning, Greg. Vouchers are expanding, too, albeit more slowly due to fierce pushback.?? But they've taken root on U.S. soil, they're constitutional (at least under the federal constitution), and the question to be asked about them today isn't whether America will ever have vouchers but where they'll appear next. Meanwhile, what's not yet winning--in anybody's schools--is student achievement.

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