Brookings Institution: Expand School Choice

The center-left Brookings Institution released a report today called the "Education Choice and Competition Index," which attempts to measure how open to parental choice the nation’s 25 largest school districts are. New York City came out on top based on the scoring rubric.

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Although no Michigan district was included in the report (none are among the nation’s 25 largest), the authors still make useful points about school choice that are relevant for this state. As the Legislature continues to debate removing the arbitrary charter school cap, it should consider the following passages from this new report quoted below.

Parents want to exercise choice:

“[M]ore than 50 percent of parents of school-aged children have engaged in some form of school choice, albeit primarily in the form of residential choice and private school tuition: two socially inequitable means of determining where a child attends school. There is little doubt based on the long waiting lists for popular public schools of choice that many more parents wish to exercise choice than are currently able to do so, and schools of choice consistently generate more positive evaluations from parents than assigned schools.” 

State Legislatures determine how many school options parents will have:

“Barriers to choice are typically imposed bureaucratically and legislatively, e.g., through charter school caps, restricting public school enrollment to the immediate neighborhood of a family’s residence, and allowing school districts to determine whether virtual education courses should be funded. But these same bureaucratic and legislation mechanisms can also be levers for expanding choice, e.g., having school funding follow children, allowing district-wide open enrollment in public schools, permitting charter expansion, funding virtual courses.”

More choice is better for parents, students and schools, especially the disadvantaged:

“[A] number of studies indicate that public schools tend to improve when they are exposed to choice and competition. That poor families are least likely to be able to exercise choice means that the school districts that serve those families are least subject to competitive pressure and least likely to change." 

“Expanding school choice and competition is desirable not only because parents want to exercise choice and schools respond to competitive pressure, although those are compelling reasons.  It also provides an alternative to top-down efforts to improve schools through regulation.”

Rules and regulations don’t work as well as choice to ensure quality:

“Top-down federal control imposes significant regulatory burdens on schools, is inflexible and far removed from the consumers and providers of education services, and has to date had only relatively small effects on raising student achievement.  Local and state control, in contrast, is often undermined by special interests that control school bureaucracies.” 

“Introducing substantial school choice and competition within the boundaries of public school districts provides an alternative to both increasing top-down control from Washington and a return to the status quo of the past century in which local and state school bureaucracies carried out their missions with little accountability either to the federal government or taxpayers and parents.”

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