Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How much choice is enough? 

Matt Abe and I were in a discussion about this with Flash and one other blogger whose name I will forget and feel bad for ... until now. Matt reminds me of this again with his post on the Stossel special on education.
It's well worth noting that Minnesota is a national leader in school choice, with charter schools (they were invented here), open enrollment (students are free to enroll outside their district; 30,000 Minnesota students did so in 2004-05), online learning, homeschools, post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO), and more. Stossel should visit Minnesota for a follow-up ...

Matt thanks Craig Westover, who also posts about these issues and distinguishes between varying delivery of public-provided education and public-financed, privately-provided education. Both Craig and Matt oppose No Child Left Behind, but Craig's concern is that it's harming higher achievers:
A voucher system targeting low-income families, allowing them to escape schools not meeting their children�s needs by attending private schools -- secular or religious -- is not an impediment to high achievers. It simply provides choice options to low-income families approximating those of the modestly well-to-do. Closing the achievement gap is important, but it needs to be done by skewing the bell curve to the right, narrowing the deviation about the center of the curve and pushing the �average� student towards the high achievement tail of the curve.

I would be happy to start a voucher program by focusing on low-income families; indeed, that has been the means to successful starts in Milwaukee and Cleveland, but what happens is that it stops there. The poor even fight to keep well-off families from gaining the same rights. The rich, Craig may argue, have always had choice; yes, I reply, but saying that means that school taxes are simply redistribution. I think you want to avoid that suggestion.

But in the list Matt offers we have public school choice -- i.e., pick which flavor of monopoly provision you want -- charter schools, which is a private school only in the sense of having a residual claimant on revenues but is compelled to take any student at a fixed price, mixed with online courses and homeschools. I would dare say that is not enough choice, as it does not provide sufficiently for private provision of publicly funded education.

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