Question #16

What kinds of results should we expect from a genuine system of educational competition and choice?

In an educational system in which schools compete for their funding from parents and students, who are free to choose among a range of existing and new schools, a number of desirable consequences are likely to result. Our research suggests, first, that the management of schools would be substantially decentralized. Schools would be given the autonomy to chart courses more consistent with the directions in which clients wanted schools to go. Second, this autonomy would be used by schools to shape their organizations in whatever ways proved most effective in meeting demands. All indications are that schools would tend to become more focused and mission-oriented, recruit stronger educational leaders, and develop more professional teaching staffs. Finally, schools and students would become more closely matched. A constellation of schools, different schools serving different kinds of students differently, would probably emerge. Each school would still accomplish the minimum goals set by the government – for example, providing four years of English, three years of mathematics, and so on, to high school graduates – but each school would meet requirements in different ways and pursue its own objectives as well. Some schools, for example, might stress the fine arts, others the liberal arts, others math or science, still others business and assorted occupations. But whatever the orientation of the school, it would tend to match the interests of its students.

These kinds of developments will lead schools to perform those educational functions desired by parents more effectively than they are now performed by public schools. For example, high schools whose very reason for being is to teach computer science will prepare students better in that subject than comprehensive high schools do today. But there is also reason to believe that schools of choice will better promote student achievement more generally. To begin with, our research shows that autonomous, effectively organized schools are more successful in bringing about student achievement, regardless of the caliber or family attributes of the student. Second, the experiences of magnet schools suggest that students achieve more when the school motivates students according to their diverse interests. Finally, parents should become more interested in and supportive of schools when they have gone to the trouble of selecting the schools their children attend. This too has occurred in magnet school experiments. The sum total of these forces – organizational, motivational, and parental – stands to be higher student achievement.