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“Education Justice League” Sums Up Research, Points to School Choice Future

Once in awhile an article comes along that makes you stand up and cheer. For me, the latest is a new Education Week column signed by “nine scholars and analysts” that lays out clearly what the research says about school choice. I was tempted to re-post the whole thing, but the big people in my life assure me that wouldn’t be right to do. So I’ll sum up.

The article observes that a number of high-quality studies have been done measuring academic results for students in choice programs, somewhat less rigorous studies examining the competitive effects choice has on the surrounding public school system, and a few studies of the fiscal impacts on public schools. The clear consensus of the highest-quality research is that vouchers and tax credits show modestly positive results on all three fronts, with none demonstrating negative effects. Results for charter schools are decidedly more mixed in the academic and competitive results, with more positive impacts in the earlier grades.

But the highlight and big takeaway of the jointly-authored Education Week piece is this:

The most important limitation on all of this evidence is that it only studies the programs we now have; it does not study the programs that we could have some day. Existing school choice programs are severely limited, providing educational options only to a targeted population of students, and those available options are highly constrained.

These limitations need to be taken seriously if policymakers wish to consider how these studies might inform their deliberations. The impact of current school choice programs does not exhaust the potential of school choice.

On the other hand, the goal of school choice should be not simply to move students from existing public schools into existing private schools, but to facilitate the emergence of new school entrants; i.e., entrepreneurs creating more effective solutions to educational challenges. This requires better-designed choice policies and the alignment of many other factors—such as human capital, private funding, and consumer-information sources—that extend beyond public policy. Public policy by itself will not fulfill the full potential of school choice. [emphasis added]

Hear, hear! If I posted the above passage a thousand times, it would not be enough. It’s worth re-reading and letting it soak in, if necessary. The authors also make a valuable point about other areas of research that need to be done on various social, economic and political effects of school choice. An important next step that can’t come soon enough.

Sure, it makes defenders of the quasi-government monopoly system unhappy — including the article commenters who ironically reject the evidence and call the authors “ideologues.” But we really need to expand our horizons in ensuring that students of all ethnicities, family backgrounds and income levels have access to a high-quality, publicly-funded education. And while we have mostly tinkered around the edges of of offering all the nation’s students real options, the best evidence indeed makes a strong case “for expanding our ongoing national experiment with school choice.”

Now, co-author Greg Forster suggests at least some of the “nine scholars and analysts” fit the bill as a team of superheroes (some of my Education Policy Center friends had to explain to me the whole Voltron thing). It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I can go along enough to suggest maybe that this piece represents the launch of an Educational Justice League. Up, up and away….

Okay, so most of them would probably be too modest to accept the analogy. But I’m just young, naive and imaginative enough to believe it would work.