Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice
November 13, 2007
Pacific Research Institute
For anyone who has purchased a home in California or just watched one of the many home-improvement shows featuring modest yet high-priced houses in the Golden State this new release from the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) is sobering. PRI asked just how good the schools really are in those well-heeled California neighborhoods where parents flock-and dole out a lot of cash for houses because of the "quality" of the local schools. The answer: not as good as you think.
The book opens with an overview of student achievement nationally and a quick primer on school choice. Then, PRI gets to the work of examining student achievement in middle-class California school districts, those districts where less than one third of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, that is, where two thirds of families have incomes of at least 185 percent of the state poverty level. The results are mixed. Most of the schools are mediocre and some are just plain bad.
PRI next looks beyond student achievement with case studies in fiscal mismanagement in affluent districts and analyses of the impact of union contracts, school-board policies, and administrative regulations in the schools. The book also debunks myths about school choice and makes the case for improved accountability systems and expanded school choice.
So what does a book about California's schools mean for Ohio, where middle-class families can still afford homes in good neighborhoods? After all, families here are doubly lucky because our public schools are pretty good, right? More than 80 percent of school districts are rated "excellent" or "effective" by the Ohio Department of Education. This book should make Buckeye State parents and homeowners think twice about the quality of their local schools and the education choices they don't have when district schools don't measure up.