The argument that the public education system would improve if every child were forced to attend is so naive and simplistic that it's surprising Slate magazine published a piece arguing exactly that.
In Slate, Allison Benedikt said that every student should attend public school, and that you are a "bad person" if you send your children to a private school. Her argument boils down to the notion that if we are all required to send our children to public schools, we will all be invested in their success. She wrote:
Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment.
Though the Slate article is on the ludicrous end of the spectrum and has been thoroughly debunked in several places already, it reflects a line of thinking that is used to restrict school choice. Benedikt's piece comes on the heels of news that the U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of Louisiana to stop allowing children's use of vouchers to attend better schools.
The federal government argues that allowing students to leave failing schools would "disrupt the racial balance in public education systems..." Similar to Benedikt's argument, the department is suggesting that the collective good (as the department perceives it) is worth relegating children to bad schools.
In its suit, the Department of Justice cites schools where the racial balance has shifted imperceptibly — in one case by just 0.7 percentage points.
As Cato Institute Policy Analyst Jason Bedrick put it:
Though the students...almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation.
An additional irony: Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White has pointed out that the majority of students who use the state's voucher program come from low-income backgrounds and are African American.
It is unfortunate that reasoning as flawed as Benedikt's is being used to force students into schools that do not best serve their needs. A similar argument has been used in Michigan, as well. Last year, State Board of Education President John Austin argued against a proposal to dramatically expand choice, saying that it "... looks a lot like a voucher program" and could have a "... perceived destructive impact on local systems around the state."
Some within the educational system itself have actually used taxpayer dollars to lobby against giving students and parents more options. The Tri-County Alliance, a lobbying organization set up and funded by several Michigan school districts and headed by Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch, was another loud voice advocating against last year's reforms. In a series of town hall meetings, Markavitch said that "competition in education" is "the wrong path to improving student performance."
An educational system without choice is an educational system without accountability. Such a system cannot and will not result in high-quality schools. Limiting educational options for students to preserve a flawed system is a travesty.
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