Are naive market-based ideas killing charters?

Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 bestseller The Tipping Point looks at "social epidemics"-when popular ideas and behavior "tip" quickly (and often unexpectedly) then die out as fast as they started. Early supporters of school choice hoped parental options in education would do the former and transform public education into a world of choice, accountability, and transparency focused on students' needs and student achievement.

More than a decade into the school choice movement in America, though, the "tip" hasn't happened and school choice is spreading slowly. In some states, like Ohio, it faces the real threat of going backwards. Paul Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, explains why the choice movement, despite its tremendous potential, is still fragile in the latest issue of Education Week. Provocatively, Hill shows how "naïve market-based initiatives encounter unexpected problems and produce meager results."

Hill's piece is mandatory reading for anyone who believes school choice plays a critical role in driving education reform in America. As Hill notes, "Choice can make parents full partners in education and drive innovation. Without it, public education is frozen in place by laws, contracts, and adult entitlements." Hill depicts in bullet-point fashion the many hurdles and challenges (many self-inflicted) facing choice programs and he calls on all reform-minded educators to stop waiting for the "tipping point" to happen. He urges action and provides useful guidance on what steps need to be taken.

As school choice fights for survival in Ohio, Hill's piece is hugely relevant and a good start for choice supporters looking to make things happen.

"Waiting for the Tipping Point," by Paul Hill in Education Week, September 5, 2007.

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