Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education

An upcoming Brookings Institution report —  “Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education” — will make interesting reading.  It will be discussed February 2 at a Brown Center on Education Policy event described here .

The preview of the event says that the report “argues that parents should be afforded the maximum degree of choice.”  So far, so good.  More intriguing, however, is news that the report will discuss “how to expand school choice to increase equity and create a market within the public sector for school quality.”  The emphasis is mine, highlighting three phrases that will tell much about how meaningful this report will be.

“Increase equity.” What education reform proposal worth its rhetorical salt does not envision more “equity”?  How the authors define that term will tell all.  As I see it, in the school choice arena equity is about eliminating disparities in the access that parents have to educational options.  As we all know, “equity” is often merely a cover for proposals that serve entrenched educational interests.

A “market within the public sector.” If public sector means public schools, the scope of the report will be limited, perhaps fatally so.  On the other hand, parental choice of schools supported with public dollars would provide a more promising framework.

“School quality.” I have observed in the last year the beginning steps, in the name of school quality, to dismantle the 20-year old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.  Many of those involved in this process want to “increase equity” and believe the focus of K-12 reform efforts should be confined to the “public sector.”

Given the expertise and background of the panelists who will present next week, how they define equity, the public sector, and school quality will be quite significant.

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