This paper has sought to build consensus around a methodical progression of questions:

  • What should our precise goals be?

  • Should our reform strategy be ad hoc or based on a model education system?

  • How and where can we find the model system best able to meet our goals?

  • What are the characteristics of that model system?

  • What policy simultaneously does the best job of realizing our model system and of taking into account short and long term legal and political realities?

The answers it proposes are that:

  • Our chief goal should be to serve the diverse educational needs of all families, not selective subsets of the population, while preserving social cohesion and assuring academic quality.

  • To fulfill our goals we should identify a comprehensive, coherent, empirically grounded model school system and implement a policy that works toward it.

  • The application of natural experiments to the historical and international data on education system performance is the most reliable tool for identifying a system that is effective, generalizable, scalable, and sustainable.

  • The model system best able to fulfill our goals is an education market driven by the unfettered choices of parents, in which both for-profit and non-profit schools compete freely and vigorously to attract and retain students. A Universal Education Tax Credit program is the ideal vehicle for instantiating an effective education market, and for resisting debilitating regulatory encroachment.

While it isn’t expected that we will now suddenly all agree on every one of these points, the analysis presented here will hopefully allow us to better identify and resolve our disagreements. Those who take issue with specific arguments or conclusions presented in this paper are encouraged to lay out their alternative views so that we can reconcile our differences to the greatest extent possible.

One thing to keep in mind is that this paper may also highlight irresolvable differences. Positions that are held out of deep ideological, religious, or political conviction are rarely subject to persuasion or compromise. To the extent that such fundamental reasons underlie any of our differences, it is useful that this be recognized early to avoid needless and ultimately futile debates.