A new book with the provocative title School Choice: The End of Public Education? (Teachers College Press, 2016) is worthwhile reading regardless of where one stands on this controversial issue. Mercedes Schneider presents a comprehensive picture of how public schools in this country began and how they have emerged over the centuries. Her substantial notes at the end of the book are up to date, making for easy reference. She correctly cites the shortcomings of unregulated parental choice. I’m not going to bother to list them since by now they are familiar to anyone following the issue.
But where Schneider disappoints is not addressing what I consider to be the No. 1 consideration undergirding the entire issue: the duty of all parents to find the best education possible for their own children. It is only human nature to favor kin over others. Ethicists remind us that there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is unethical not to do so. I’ve never met parents who are willing to sacrifice their own children on the altar of an ideology. They may exist, but they are a distinct minority. Trying to make parents who demand choice feel guilty has been tried before and failed. That doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for other children. But it is a stretch to claim that school choice signals the beginning of the end of public education.
I don’t think public education in this country will be recognizable in another decade. Pressure is building to allow parents to choose which school they alone believe is best for their children. The courts have supported the movement. There will always be children whose parents are not involved enough in their education to take advantage of the options open to them. We should do everything possible to reach out to them. But we can’t let their presence deprive other parents of the opportunity to choose the school best able to meet the needs and interests of their children.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.