Public education is a set of guiding principles—a combination of beliefs about something that ought to be provided. Some characteristics include,
- Availability to all children
- Preparation for success in career and higher education
But these principles can be operationalized in countless ways. How we bring them to life is up to us.
A good analogy is democracy. That too is a set of principles:
- Suffrage for all adults
- One person, one vote
- Secret ballots
- Fair counting of results
But it can take many forms. In the US, we elect a president and Congress separately. In the UK, the prime minister is part of their legislature.
Every four years, we’re reminded that Iowa has a caucus while New Hampshire has a primary. These, and more, are all legitimate forms of democracy.
The problem with urban public education is that we have been led to believe that there is but one real way to deliver public schooling: the district. In fact, many people believe that “the district” and “public education” are synonymous.
But they are not. The district is just one way to deliver public education.
We can do something different.
Some of you have probably believed that to have a meaningful, lasting influence on urban education, the district had to be your center of attention: The district is now and forever would be the dominant, default deliver system for urban schooling.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to be constrained by these arrangements. The decisions of our predecessors—those who created the
Many proponents of private school choice—both the voucher and tax credit scholarship versions—take for granted that schools won’t participate (or shouldn’t participate) if government asks too much of them, regulates their practices, requires them to reveal closely held information and—above all—demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. A recent Friedman Foundation report, for example, bemoaned testing requirements that “may force all participating schools to move in the direction of a single, monopolistic curriculum and pedagogy...” And analysts at the Cato Institute went so far as to send letters to Indiana private schools urging them not to participate in the state’s new voucher program, which it called a “strategic defeat” for school reform, in part because of its testing and transparency requirements.
But is this assumption justified? It’s surely plausible on paper. Part of what’s distinctive and valuable—and often educationally effective—about private schools is their autonomy, their freedom to be different, their escape from the heavy regulatory regime that characterizes most of public education. Insofar as they cherish that autonomy, over-regulation by government might well deter them from participating in taxpayer-supported choice programs and thereby block children from benefiting from the education those private schools offer.
Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve
Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types of schools shy away from regulation more than others? All of this matters, because if private schools decide not to participate, private school choice programs become unworkable.
It turns out that private schools are not vehemently opposed to academic accountability (including state testing and reporting requirements), according to a new Fordham report out today.
Authored by David Stuit and Sy Doan of Basis Policy Research, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? found that testing and reporting requirements ranked among the least important considerations for school leaders, with just 25 percent citing state assessment rules as very important when deciding whether or not to participate (and only 17 percent said the same about public reporting of testing results).
While 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to not participate in choice programs, government regulations are not judged equally. Among non-participating schools,
- More than half (58 percent) cited obligatory paperwork and mandatory “open enrollment” as important factors in their decisions;
- Nearly half (48 percent) cited upholding student-admissions criteria as
Mike’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, continues to garner attention. Here are some recent articles and interviews worth checking out. (And if you haven’t yet, buy the book now!)
- Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of All Together Now, reviewed Mike’s book in the Washington Monthly: “… This book may be a significant—and hopeful—harbinger that the center-right school reform community, battered down by the humbling experience of trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, may be willing to take a new look at how to reinvent Brown v. Board of Education for the twenty-first century.” (1/13–2/13)
- In Education Next, Michael Thomas Duffy called Diverse Schools “nifty” and unflinchingly honest: “The strength of The Diverse Schools Dilemma as a handbook for urban middle-class parents is borne of Petrilli’s willingness to steer clear of cant. No pious lectures from him, and once he finishes making the case for enrolling in a multi-racial public school containing large numbers of poor kids, he turns around and makes equally strong counter arguments: schools serving affluent students are safer; the disruptive students found in greater numbers in low-income urban schools slow the pace at which lessons
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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