Implicit in this argument are the assumptions that parents—particularly poor and minority parents—are not smart enough to know what is best for their children, and that government will make better school selection choices than parents.  Common sense and experience, however, tell us that most parents in fact do make good decisions with their children's best interests in mind.  Some parents may make poor decisions, but this is no argument for denying choice to everyone.

 The Facts:

  • The right to make poor choices is legal.  Some people make poor decisions in many areas of life:  They choose to eat poor food, watch poor television programs, drive poor cars, and enter into poor relationships.  But no one argues that this is an excuse for government to make these decisions for everyone.  The right of people to make poor choices in a free society is the same right that allows people to make good choices.  Freedom does not come without inherent risks, but freedom is certainly better than being forced to accept the poor choices of others.  

  • Minority and lower-income parents can be trusted to make good choices.  Opponents of school choice often presume that minority and lower-income parents do not know the difference between good and bad schools and therefore often will choose bad schools.  This condescending assumption ignores the evidence that poor or uneducated parents are just as capable as higher-income, better-educated parents of distinguishing between good and bad schools.  The problem is that poor parents are rarely given the opportunity to do so.  But when they have the opportunity and are given full information about the choices open to them, they choose well.[111]
     
    The Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF), a private organization that offers financial assistance to lower-income students, received over 1.25 million applicants for its four-year, $1,000 student scholarships.  The average income of applying families was under $22,000 per year, showing that parents are willing to make significant financial sacrifices even for scholarships that pay only part of their children's tuition.  CSF CEO and Co-Chairman Ted Forstmann remarked, "Think of it: 1.25 million applicants asking to pay $1,000 a year over four years.  That's $5 billion that poor families were willing to spend simply to escape the schools where their children have been relegated and to secure a decent education."[112]

  • Parents, who understand their children's needs best, should determine the criteria by which to judge schools.  School choice has been criticized because some parents may decide that a school with an emphasis on team sports is better for their child than one that excels in, say, science.  Others may disagree with such criteria for choosing a school, but the disapproval of others is no reason to deny all parents the right to make their own choices. 

  • Information will help parents choose the best school.  Competition among schools will cause an information market to arise.  Schools themselves will generate informational material, appealing to parents on the basis of positive features their particular school has to offer and educating parents in the process.  Many schools—even government schools—already promote themselves with marketing and advertising campaigns.  Parents will have help determining which school will best serve their children's needs, just as consumers today have help (in the form of Consumer Reports and similar publications) understanding which automotive repair shop, restaurant, or grocery store best serves their needs.



[111]       Lawrence Mead, "Jobs for the Welfare Poor," Policy Review, winter 1988, p. 65.

[112]       Ted Forstmann, "School Choice, by Popular Demand," The Wall Street Journal, 21 April 1999, p. A22.

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