This argument assumes two things:  First, that private schools discriminate more in selecting students than do government schools and second, that government schools are open to all students.  But neither of these assumptions is necessarily true.  Government schools do not accept every student, and many private schools in fact accept a wide range of students.  In addition, parents empowered with choice can select from all types of schools, private or government.  Choice provides children with more educational opportunities, not less. 

The Facts:

  • The current government assignment system already makes choices for parents.  Government schools generally accept only those students who live in their districts.  Wealthy suburban areas, for example, do not accept poor minority students from the inner city.  Some government schools—particularly so-called "magnet schools"—routinely screen students based on academic ability or whether or not they live in the "right" district.

  • Private schools are not characterized by exclusivity. Fr. Timothy O'Brien of Marquette University conducted a study of 63 elementary parochial schools and found that no more than one student each had been expelled in 61 percent of the surveyed schools.  The study also discovered that more children with academic and disciplinary problems were transferred from government schools to Catholic schools than the other way around.[109]  Although some private schools are exclusive, either by high tuition or selective entrance standards, the same can be said of government schools that enroll students only from exclusive or wealthy neighborhoods within their "districts" and reject students from other neighborhoods on the "wrong side" of a district boundary.

  • School choice does not "cream" the best students from the public schools and leave the worst behind.  The experience of charter schools and publicly funded voucher programs demonstrates that students who are behind or not being served in their assigned public school are the ones most likely to exercise choice, not the "best" students.  John Witte, an evaluator of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, found that students who used publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools were "significantly below the average MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] student" taking similar tests.[110]  In short, students who are falling through the cracks in the public school system—not the "cream of the crop"—are most likely to seek alternative educational opportunities.  Why would the "best" students want to leave a school that is already serving their needs? 

  • School choice provides greater opportunity for all parents and children.  School choice allows all parents to select the best schools for their children, not just the wealthy parents that can afford to move to better districts or pay tuition at an alternative school.  Under the current system, the one-school-fits-all approach precludes equal opportunity and greater options for the majority of children.  Greater school choice will allow poor parents the same choices already available to wealthier parents.  Choice allows parents to select from a variety of schools—if one school does not work, there are others that may.

[109]       Danielle L. Schultz, "Lessons from America's Best Run Schools," The Washington Monthly, November 1983, pp. 52-53.

[110]       John F. Witte, The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 69.

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