the battle over school choice

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the voucher controversy · the educational marketplace and charter schools · the data on school choice

OVERVIEW

What is School Choice?

This short essay from Education Week explains the basic concepts behind the movement for "school choice:" providing "choice" for low income families is fundamentally fair, and innovative alternatives will force public schools to implement positive changes.

Redefining Public Schools

This more extensive article from Education Week provides an overview of the emerging public school alternatives (public and private voucher programs and charter schools) and examines the hopes of "choice" proponents that competition will improve education in America, and skeptics' fears that "choice" may backfire by taking resources away from already struggling public schools. This article is the first in a five-part series on school choice. Subsequent installments address the issue of whether innovations spurred by competition actually improve student achievement; methods for insuring accountability in voucher and charter programs; charter schools and race; and the reaction of traditional public schools to competition.

Can These Schools Be Saved?

Salon.com offers a weeklong look at the state of America's public schools. FRONTLINE/Center for Investigative Reporting producer Stephen Talbot and reporters Eve Pell and Louis Freedberg have each contributed an article to this series, based on their reporting for "The Battle Over School Choice." Talbot examines Cleveland's uneven experiment with school vouchers, Pell looks at David Brennan's White Hat Management, a for-profit company that runs a chain of charter schools in Ohio, and Freedberg compares Woodrow Wilson High--the Washington public school Al Gore could have, but didn't, send his children to--with Sidwell Friends, the private school attended by his son, Albert, and Chelsea Clinton.

THE VOUCHER CONTROVERSY

Voucher programs, which provide grants to parents of public school students towards tuition at private schools, are currently active in only a few states. Many more states have legislation under debate, however, and vouchers have become a hot issue for presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush. Proponents claim that vouchers even the educational playing field by offering low income students an alternative to ineffective, unsafe public schools. Opponents counter that voucher programs take money, better students, and concerned parents away from already troubled public school systems without offering any solutions to existing problems. Another criticism is that taxpayer-funded vouchers for tuition at religious schools unconstitutionally breach the separation between church and state.

Are Vouchers the Answer?

FRONTLINE interviewed voucher supporters: Harvard Professor of Government Paul Peterson, economist Caroline Hoxby, education entrepreneur David Brennan, and public interest attorney Clint Bolick. FRONTLINE also talked with voucher opponents: former chancellor of New York public schools Rudy Crew, civil liberties activist Barry Lynn, and Al Gore's education policy advisor William Galston.

the voucher debate

Education Week summarizes the debate over publicly funded vouchers and offers links to information about specific voucher programs.

the voucher seduction

Education writer Peter Schrag believes that the strange coalition of conservatives, who believe in the power of the market to reform schools, and the low-income minority families, who are in favor of vouchers because it gives them a way out of their failing schools, will be short-lived. Schrag argues that the current voucher movement might be "the beginning of a slippery slope in which the poor are simply the poster children in a process that will gradually erode support for all public education." He concludes that ultimately the only real "choice" will go to private schools, in their cherry-picking of only the most promising public school students.

the voucher threat

Schrag's anti-voucher argument is echoed by the activist group Rethinking Schools, an education reform organization founded by a group of Milwaukee teachers. They argue that the aim of the voucher movement is the ultimate dismantling of American public education, hiding under the guise of helping low-income families.

A Bold Experiment to Fix City Schools

This article by Matthew Miller addresses a number of the arguments raised by voucher opponents--that there's no evidence that vouchers work, that they will drain money from the public system, that they are unconstitutional--and proposes an expanded universal voucher program.

A Liberal Case for Vouchers

by Paul Peterson
New Republic 10/4/99

In this editorial from the New Republic, Harvard University Professor of Government Paul Peterson examines data from a study of a private voucher program in San Antonio, Texas, and finds that many of the fears of voucher opponents-- voucher programs will "skim" off quality students and concerned parents from public schools, or, will increase racial segregation--did not materialize.

THE EDUCATIONAL MARKETPLACE AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

A corollary to the idea of "school choice" giving parents and students greater options is the notion that creating competition in the school marketplace will stimulate innovation and improvement in all public schools. The founding of new public "charter" schools, unencumbered by many of the regulations of the existing school system and based on a variety of educational approaches, should create a competitive market for students. If there are enough--and good enough-- charter schools in a region, they will lure away sufficient numbers of students (and therefore money) from the existing public school system so that the system will be forced to make positive changes, or cease to exist.

INTERVIEWS: Competition, School Choice and Charter Schools

In these excerpted interviews with FRONTLINE, education experts Caroline Hoxby, Paul Peterson, and Chester Finn, former Chancellor of New York public schools Rudy Crew and education entrepreneur David Brennan discuss the benefits and challenges inherent in introducing market forces into America's public schools.

What is a Charter School?

A summary on how charter schools work and the rationale behind the charter school movement, with links to further information, from Education Week.

Healthy Competition

by David Osborne
New Republic 10/4/99

In this editorial, author and consultant David Osborne examines the emerging data on charter schools, and finds that in many circumstances, successful charter schools do, in fact, instigate positive change across school districts. He cautions, however, that in many states charter school legislation does not allow for true competition for students and funding--local school boards maintain veto power over charter school applications, not all of the per pupil funding goes with the student to the charter school--thus defeating the goal of developing healthy competition.

Charter School Statistics

The Center for Education Reform offers an updated list on the number and locations of charter schools in the U.S., and information about various states' charter school legislation. This is a partisan organization that promotes charter schools, and this focus is reflected in the evaluation and commentary on, state legislation.

US Charter Schools Web Site

This extensive web site is a great resource for information on charter schools. It provides a simple overview and FAQ on charter schools; state by state information on existing charter schools and relevant legislation, including links to individual charter schools' web sites; an annotated bibliography of selected reports and research on charter schools; and tips and resources for starting and running a charter school.

THE DATA ON SCHOOL CHOICE

Vouchers and Test Scores: What the Numbers Show

This Policy Review article by Paul Peterson reviews a number of studies evaluating the ability of voucher programs to improve student achievement. He concludes that despite numerous characterizations of the data as "inconclusive" in the media, voucher programs do in fact have a positive impact on achievement test scores.

Vouchers: the Evidence

New York Times education columnist Richard Rothstein critiques the interpretations of voucher proponent Paul Peterson, and others, and finds that the data on the ability of vouchers to improve education are inconclusive, at best.

The Truth About Education Vouchers: New Information On School Choice

The pro-school choice Center for Educational Reform has collected and summarized data on the number of students participating in school choice programs, their demographic characteristics, and provides links to academic papers which conclude that existing voucher programs are successful. They also provide a more extensive annotated bibliography of research and position papers.

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