Getting Choice Right: Ensuring Equity and Efficiency in Education Policy

Julian R. Betts and Tom Loveless, Editors
Brookings Institution Press
2005

This collection of academic essays starts with an appropriate premise: school choice is here to stay, so the focus of research should be on getting its details right. This book does an admirable job of raising important questions. How do parents make their school choice decisions? What happens to students who stay behind in non-choice schools? How does school choice impact racial integration or the development of civic values? Why do "choice" schools perform better than regular public schools? But it provides frustratingly few answers and little fresh data. For instance, in their chapter "How School Choice Affects Achievement," Loveless and Frederick M. Hess discuss the attraction of "looking inside the black box" of choice schools to understand why many of them outperform their rivals, but they admit that their essay "offered more questions than answers." Elements that make choice schools effective-such as high parental participation and strong student engagement-might be replicable within an expanded choice system, Loveless and Hess argue, but they also might not. This volume's greatest strength is building a stronger theoretical base for future research. For example, Betts argues that, while the education realm will never be a perfect market, there are many reasons to believe that more competition is almost always better than less. Another helpful piece, this one by Brian Gill, provides some context for policymakers concerned with using choice to promote racial and economic integration. Scattered throughout are many worthwhile policy notions, summarized concisely in this excellent Education Week article (subscription required). Researchers and analysts in the school choice field will find this book essential reading; others may make do with the article. You can order the Brookings volume here.

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