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The Brookings Institution: Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education

Authors: Joseph N. Greene, Tom Loveless, W. Bentley MacLeod, Thomas Nechyba, Paul Peterson, Mitchell S. Rosenthal, and Grover Whitehurst, Director, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution
February 2, 2010


This report offers policy recommendations to support the expansion of choice in elementary and secondary education.

Education choice exercises a powerful pull on parents of school children: Twenty-four percent report that they moved to their current neighborhood so their children could attend their current school; 15 percent of public school students attend parent-selected rather than district-assigned schools; the charter school and homeschooling sectors have grown from nothing to 2.6 percent and 3 percent of total enrollment respectively; private schools capture 11 percent of enrollment; and virtual schooling is poised for explosive growth. Consistent with these behavioral manifestations of the desire of parents to choose their children's schools, schools of choice consistently generate more positive evaluations from parents than assigned schools.

Arguments for school choice include improving school quality and efficiency through competition among schools for students; enhancing opportunity for students from disadvantaged families who may otherwise be trapped in ineffective schools; and spurring innovation through the greater administrative autonomy likely to exist in schools of choice. Opponents of choice theorize that it will stratify students by family background, result in niche schools that do not convey the nation's common heritage, provide taxpayer support for religious instruction, and nullify the advantages of standardization in curriculum, teacher preparation, and management that accrue when schooling systems are designed to deliver a common educational experience across a universe of schools. Opponents of choice also argue that many traditional public schools perform superbly and that those that do not can be improved through better resource allocation and management.

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