Is school choice a worthy end in itself?

The Columbus Dispatch ran competing op-eds by School Choice Ohio's (SCO) Chad Aldis and Fordham's Terry Ryan on the expansion of vouchers in the Buckeye State. Both Aldis and Ryan support the expansion of school choice programs in Ohio, but how the state should hold these new programs accountable for their academic performance and even whether it should do so is contentious.

Ohio's House Bill 136(Huffman) would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship Program (PACT), a private school scholarship program open to all students statewide whose families meet a maximum income threshold, regardless of whether their home district is failing or not. PACT would award up to $4,563 per child to families with annual household incomes up to $65,000 for a family of four, and could affect every school district in the state. The breadth of this proposed voucher program as well as the fact that Ohio currently has three other voucher programs and a myriad of other school choice options such as charter and on-line schools, is turning the debate over HB 136 into somewhat of a school choice war.

SCO's Chad Aldis made the philosophical case for the expansion of vouchers when he penned that

?As parents, we want the best for our children, and we make choices every day to achieve that. We choose the food they eat, the doctors they see, the amount of television they watch. Our choices help shape the people they become. Yet, among the hundreds of choices we make each week, one very important choice is not available to thousands of Ohio families.??

Aldis' argument is straightforward and points out that HB136 would enable thousands of families whether to send their child to school, a choice that many affluent families already exercise either by paying for private school tuition or moving into a school district of their choice. Aldis's op-ed did not address issues of accountability and left the reader with the notion that more school choice in and of itself is good enough for public policy.

Fordham's Terry Ryan takes a different approach and points out that Ohio is already a hot-bed of school choice and that new choices should be matched by an equal concern for quality and student performance. Ryan states:

??The genie of school choice is out of the bottle. The question for state policymakers is how to ensure that this widening of options is matched by improved school quality and ultimate gains in student achievement. It little avails a child to choose a school that's no more effective than the one he or she is exiting. Improved achievement has to be the state's foremost education policy goal.?

It is no secret that Ohio's school choice options have had mixed results, and we at the Fordham Institute have readily admitted this. As more and more school choice options make their way into the Buckeye State it is critical to ensure that these programs are actually improving student achievement and that choice doesn't simply become an end in itself. Choice, Ryan argues, is not an end in itself but is rather a means to an end, with then end being improved student outcomes. ?

The debate over improving school choice in the Buckeye State is just starting to heat up, stay tuned for what is sure to be an interesting next few months. Read both op-eds in their entirety here and here.

-Bianca Speranza

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