Several broad groups in our
society are in favor of family choice in education, and if brought together,
their energies can be mobilized and channeled behind a specific reform agenda.
The business community has
a vital stake in the effectiveness of our educational system because it must
bear the costs of retraining people who leave public schools unable to read,
write, or perform basic arithmetic. A Conference Board survey of 130 major
corporations revealed that nearly two-thirds regard primary and secondary
education their number one community affairs concern, up from less than half in
1985. (Associated Press, "Education is Top Concern of Business," Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 12, 1987).
A recent poll by North Coast Behavioral Research Group of Cleveland of 1,200 of
our nation's major corporations revealed that 64 percent of the human resource
officers indicated that high school graduates entering the work force cannot
read, write, or reason well. Among business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, there is a
general consensus that our competitiveness, our technological inventiveness, as
well as our future strength and prosperity are threatened by the present
dysfunctional educational infrastructure.
The corporations, small
business leaders, church leaders, educators, and others who made up the Detroit
Strategic Planning Projects in 1987 said,
The decline of the
school system's effectiveness comes, sadly, at a time when the need for
sophisticated education is more critical than ever. ...now, employers in the
burgeoning service industries that will stoke Detroit's economy in the future
demand skills that are far more complex. Detroit schools have not met the
challenge of refocusing educational priorities for a revitalized and diversified
In light of the recognition
of the intractable problems which afflict public schools, the time has come for
Detroit's leaders and Detroit's business community to focus attention where it
is deserved: upon private schools. Business leaders can make an enormous
considering the value of private education;
supporting market based choice options; and
adopting private schools in the inner-city of Detroit which serve poor
and low-income students.
Scholarships, grants, and
other forms of aid directed to inner city private schools can go a long way
towards improving the availability of a good education to a diverse group of
poor and low-income students. In return, the supply of well-educated students
capable of working in Detroit's growing service sector will rise.
Locked into a degrading
system which does violence to their natural aspirations of a better life for
their children, low-income groups have consistently expressed the strongest
interest in parental choice among any group in society. They are the ones who
have no choice. Educationally disenfranchised in our society, they stand to
benefit most from a system which delivers educational excellence. The poor are
forced by law to send their children into the cavernous buildings of the inner
city, where a facade of educational activity exists, but which are more aptly
described by one observer as nothing more than an institutionalized form of
child neglect. Finally, it is the poor who are the helpless recipients of the
widespread elitist notion of society that they are too unconcerned and apathetic
to benefit from parental choice.
Parents of Students
As demonstrated by many
recent polls, parents across the socio-economic spectrum express a deep interest
in parental choice. They long to have the opportunity to actively determine what
school most suits the needs of their children.
While nationally 11-14
percent of school-aged parents have willingly demonstrated their commitment to
parental choice by paying the extra tuition required to send their children to
non-public schools, many more parents would choose to follow their example if
given some assistance. In a 1981 poll by Newsweek, 23 percent of parents with
children in public schools indicated they would most likely transfer their
children to non-public schools if they received tax credits of $250 to $500 per
Beyond these particular
groups in society, the consensus is we are ready for genuine reform. All parents
have a deep interest in the education of their children, wanting the very best
educational opportunities available. When it becomes clear that a policy of
parental choice will result in the improvement of public schools as well, then
parents across the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum will join the chorus for
Each parent should have the
right to remove their child from a school that is either dangerous or lacks
quality. No child should be forced to attend such a school. Each responsible
parent who finds his or her child in such a situation and has thecapacity to either move to anew neighborhood
with a better school or pay the extra tuition for a non-public education can
exercise choice. Can we continue to deny to the poor that which we allow the
rich and middle class?
theoretical concerns will be expressed concerning the problems authentic reform
may cause. It is true that problems will arise when parents can choose which
school their children will attend; however, we ought
not establish a double standard on this issue. Could parental choice result in a
worse situation than we have now? A substantial majority of the poor express
their preference for parental choice. Shall we deny them that which we reserve
unto ourselves in order to preserve "the system"? We must ask ourselves whether
we are more interested in maintaining institutions, jobs, and security for
employees than in providing justice, hope, and social mobility for all.
failings of public education are intractable and resistant to traditional reform
efforts. Certainly, the risks inherent in fundamental change are well worth
taking – especially given the broad advantages associated with such a change.
Certainly, we can creatively embrace reform while we recognize that in any
system designed by people there will be inadequacies. Let us not allow the
uncertainty of choice to prevent us from leaving the current destructive public
market-based choice will not solve all of Detroit's
problems, it seems clear that the current public school monopoly is intolerable.
The time has come to move beyond the rhetoric of reform to the reality of choice.
Detroit's future and the future of its people demand that every child, black,
white, hispanic, and Asian, rich, and poor be given an opportunity to succeed.
The time has come to end the public school system's pathological oppression of
the poor by bureaucrats. In our view, market-based choice is more than "mere
reform"; it is a