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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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
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
 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
The basic arguments for
educational choice are relatively straight-forward and have been discussed at
 We list the arguments thusly:
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."
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
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.
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.
The achievement gap between
minorities and whiles narrows ill private schools. It widens in public schools.
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.
 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."
 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."
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.
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.