Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public

Terry Moe's important new Brookings book has a title meant to recall his and John Chubb's influential 1990 work (also published by Brookings), Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. This volume should have an impact, too. Based primarily on a massive 1995 survey, it analyzes U.S. public opinion on vouchers more thoroughly and exhaustively than anyone has ever done. While opinion is not the only proper basis for policy, in a democracy it's mighty influential. Moe's findings are not easily summarized in politician-style sound-bytes, however, because on these matters the American public feels several different ways at the same time. It certainly believes in public schools and, for the most part, is satisfied with its public schools. Yet it also thinks private schools do a better job and, if money were no object, many people bent on seeking the best schools for their children would move to them. Hence they'd welcome vouchers. But they care not just about the abstract "market principle" of vouchers. They also have strong views about how a voucher program should work. Perhaps their two most important opinions are (a) that a voucher program should include church-affiliated schools but (b) all schools participating in a voucher program should be subject to "basic regulations...that hold them accountable for quality and proper management." As you can see, there's plenty here to provide grist not only for every side of this fractious debate but also for fair-minded people wondering why it's all so fractious! This sizable tome runs 450 pages. Its ISBN is 0815758081. You can obtain it from the Brookings Institution Press, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036; phone 1-800-275-1447 or 202-797-6258; fax 202-797-6004, attn: Publications Order Dept., or surf to http://www.brook.edu/press/books/schools_vouchers.htm. For a thoughtful critique of Moe's book (and the voucher movement itself) by education historian Diane Ravitch, go to http://www.brookings.edu/views/articles/ravitch/20011008.htm

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