Ever since our president-elect nominated school choice champion Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, there’s been a vigorous debate amongst us education nerds about the proper way to think about school choice. It’s a civil war! Another divide in the reform movement!
Not so fast. Sure, there are disagreements on key policy design issues, but where we differ is dwarfed by our common cause. We don’t have a split as much as a spectrum—a range of views, all of which are worlds away from the position of our opponents in the teachers unions and other parts of the education establishment. (And yes, I say that as someone who has written about our own “schisms.”)
To test the proposition, give the following Buzzfeed-style quiz a try. Check all the boxes that apply to your personal views:
I support a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child, using public funds, as long as that school:
☐ Is overseen by an elected school board
☐ Submits to a financial audit on a regular basis
☐ Follows state class-size mandates
☐ Adheres to health, safety, and civil rights laws
☐ Teaches a curriculum aligned to state standards
☐ Is a brick-and-mortar school (not an online one)
☐ Doesn’t teach religion
☐ Is in session at least six hours a day, 180 days a year
☐ Follows state teacher-pay guidelines
☐ Participates in annual assessments
☐ Has at least one librarian, nurse, and counselor
☐ Does not practice selective admissions
☐ Demonstrates at least minimal growth in student achievement
☐ Employs unionized teachers
☐ Keeps student suspensions to a minimal level
Now give yourself one point for every box you checked.
0–2 points: Congratulations, you are a libertarian! And, in my opinion, naïve about the potential for fraud and abuse in any domain involving taxpayer dollars.
3–5 points: You strongly support parental choice, while understanding that public funding comes with the need for certain safeguards.
6–8 points: You still get to call yourself a reformer but beware of your nanny-state tendencies!
9–15 points: Do you work for the NEA or AFT? You are no friend of parental choice.
* * *
Personally, I got a “4” on this quiz. The only limitations I’d put on taxpayer-funded parental choice are that eligible schools:
• Submit to a financial audit on a regular basis
• Adhere to health, safety, and civil rights laws
• Participate in annual assessments
• Demonstrates at least minimal growth in student achievement
For sure, I disagree with some of my libertarian friends about whether schools that are supported with public funds should have to take state assessments and demonstrate student growth. And I disagree with some of my progressive friends about whether all public schools have to be open to all comers, or be secular. These are important debates.
But these are matters of degree. We all fundamentally agree that parents should get to choose the best school for their children, and we want to keep limits on those choices to a minimum. Our opponents, on the other hand, believe in parental choice in name only.
Something to keep in mind in the days and weeks ahead.
— Mike Petrilli
Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and executive editor of Education Next.
This post originally appeared on Flypaper