True education reform must be driven by the dreams and aspirations of our people. Once we allow parental values and choices to be respected, we will unleash a process of positive change. As parents choose the schools that are uniquely suited to their children, a "market" will emerge and it will respond.

A just system of reform must be consistent with our most enduring traditions and cherished values. The American experiment has shown the world that pluralism, democracy and the market system enhances social stability and most effectively meets the material and spiritual aspirations of society.

The pluralism in Detroit's private schools, their willingness to take risk, reflects diversity and as James Skillen suggests, perhaps we have entered a stage of history where the pluralism of cultures, viewpoints, and talents is so great that a single "common school" will no longer prove adequate or desirable.

After several decades of attempts to reform education by political and bureau­cratic mandates, a growing number of critics are now arguing that all such efforts to stem "the rising tide of mediocrity will fail because they do not go to the root of the system's difficulties"...an open system of plural choice that uses market mechanisms and puts control in the hands of individual schools and parents will have to be instituted before good schools become the rule rather than the exception across the country. [38] Detroit's private schools respond to parental concerns about educational achievement, safety and diversity. The parents and students can be viewed as demanders of educational services. A free market responds to demand by increasing supply. The market system is essential in education because only in a freely-functioning market can the creative talents of people be free to produce new, vibrant, and responsive schools. Without the market system, pluralism cannot exist because our diversity is not respected or allowed to manifest itself. In addition, by operating in a competitive market, private schools guided by strong leadership and school-level autonomy perform better at lower cost.

Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, a distinguished educator and psychologist put it this way:

What is most important in understanding the ability of the educational establishment to resist change is the fact that public schools are protected monopolies with only minimal competition from private and parochial schools. [39]

To be effective, schools require strong instructional leadership, a safe and orderly climate, school-wide emphasis on basic skills, high teacher expectations and continuous assessment of pupil progress. [40] These characteristics are encouraged in the context of a market system. Most of the private schools we surveyed demonstrate possession of these prerequisites for success. At Dominican High School for instance, Sister Peggy Manners said that goals are "practical" and evaluated periodically by faculty and staff. No goal is unrealistic". As a result of strong leadership and motivated parents, students win scholarships as well as receive local and national recognition.

A precondition for strong instructional leadership is school-level independence. Strong leadership tends to require disciplined teachers and students. Moreover, strong leaders tend to require that teachers be demanding of students. In large urban areas like Detroit, strong leadership and school autonomy is more likely to exist in a market system. Schools which fail to perform within a market will be forced to exit. While strong educational leadership and school autonomy are not the only determinants of student success, they are the primary factors which can lead to genuine reform. [41]

The basic arguments for educational choice are relatively straight-forward and have been discussed at length elsewhere. [42] We list the arguments thusly:

  1. Public schools, especially in poorer areas, are monopolies. Consistent with economic theory, most monopoly schools are inefficient and wasteful. They underperform schools which face serious and direct competition. In contrast, private schools compete at the margin by more efficient resource deployment, more innovation, and more diversification in terms of educational approaches. In sum, private schools deliver a higher return at lower cost while public school monopolies "ignore the legitimate needs and interests of both the consumer and the worker." [43]

  2. Private schools tend to be free from democratic control mechanisms such as bureaucratic central administration. Consequently, private schools are much more likely to exhibit strong autonomy and strong leadership at the school level.

  3. Diversity is an additional virtue of choice. In light of the pluralism of views and values in our society and in light of the lack of consensus on the range of things Americans should learn, choice provides an excellent alternative to the single common school. Parents have access to more information about their children than school bureaucrats. Accordingly, parents are in a better position to make informed decisions. Choice makes that possible.

  4. Robust choice opens up the supply side of the market. While many proposals abound supporting choice within public schools only, robust choice which opens education to the rigors of the market will increase the supply of good schools.

  5. The achievement gap between minorities and whiles narrows ill private schools. It widens in public schools.

Our list is not exhaustive. Other important arguments exist in favor of robust choice. Sugarman in his working paper, "Using Private Schools to Promote Public Values" lists other arguments. [44] One rests on the idea that choice-based schools can recreate community. This sociologically grounded argument states that the community is created by "like-minded parents selecting schools whose mission and values they identify." [45] Accordingly, it "stands to reason that where school placements are voluntary the school can and does make greater demands on the pupils to work up to their capacity, and the students and their families acquire loyalty to the school and with that a greater sense of responsibility for its success." [46]

The value of voluntary transactions and decision-making is an important condition for the maintenance of a free society. Limiting parents to one school for a child not only inhibits freedom, but results in inefficiency and underachievement. Both James Buchanan and Richard Posner have explicated important lessons on the value of voluntary exchange. [47]

To repeat, we find the arguments for robust choice, including private schools financed by some form of voucher or tax credit system, compelling. Accordingly,we propose that the Detroit education system be expanded to include complete and untrammeled choice, including private schools and home schooling options.