the voucher controversy · the educational marketplace and
charter schools · the data on 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Education Week summarizes the debate over publicly funded vouchers and offers
links to information about specific voucher programs.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
what do the candidates say? ·
how bad are public schools? ·
is "choice" the answer? ·
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.
A summary on how charter schools work and the rationale behind the charter school
movement, with links to further information, from Education Week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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