Universal School Choice Next Step in Education Reform

A new study released by the Friedman Foundation for School Choice has found that success achieved by limited school choice programs could scale well if the scope of the programs was expanded. The states and localities that allow severely restricted school choice are standing in the way of the one true challenge to the educational status quo.

As the communities around the country grow more open to experimenting with school choice, the number of school choice models and approaches they can adopt grows likewise. People considering opening a charter school in their school district, for example, can pick proven formulas by companies like Carpe Diem or KIPP. The sheer diversity of school models available only presents more contrast to the one-size-fits-all traditional public school, and proves, once again, that there's no approach that will be universally successful. Different students require different things to learn successfully, and only by expanding school choice access can the parents work to find what works best for their children.

The nation faces two crucial challenges as we enter this new period. Only a tiny fraction of the promise and potential of greenfield school models has been tapped so far. How can we create far more of these models, with greater variation and more institutional support for innovation? And how is it possible for greenfield school models to create improvement in the vast majority of schools, the "un-reinvented" regular public schools, given that even gradual attempts at programmatic reform within those schools have been ineffective over the past 50 years?

The time has come for American school districts, once and for all, adopt universal school choice. Introducing the concepts familiar to private business into the educational arena will not only expand opportunities for children of all income levels and ethnic groups, it will also finally push the moribund public school systems into seriously innovating. When public schools have to compete for students and funding with more agile charter and private schools, they will be less likely to continue to be beholden to the education sacred cows that have ossified from lack of change.

There's more and more research that shows that moderate improvements are possible in areas where school choice is introduced. Not only do students who take advantage of the offered choices benefit but even their peers who choose to remain in public schools. In a lot of cases, the impact might be severely limited by the fact that the school choice program themselves are fairly limited in scope. To tie the hands of the biggest actor in the educational reform scene and then expect miracles is unreasonable.

This study uses descriptive data from the U.S. Department of Education to examine the composition of the private school sector in localities with sizable school choice programs. If existing school choice programs are attracting educational entrepreneurs and unlocking the potential of new school models, we should expect to see significant changes in the sector's composition. While the available data do not allow us to examine every aspect of schooling, the founding of new school models ought to produce visible changes in school types, school sizes, and other visible metrics.

It's way past the time for the country to fully commit to the idea of school choice, remove all regulatory and financial barriers, and allow it to flourish.

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