On one side of the school choice continuum (the left) you have public-public choice which is a liberal egalitarian perspective and on the right side of the school choice continuum you have the public-private choice which is more of a neo-liberal or neo-conservative perspective and in the middle is the semi-private choice. According to Martin, the public-public choice options include: a school within a school, intra-district schools, inter-district schools and magnet schools. The semi-private choices include charter schools and home schooling and the public-private choices include vouchers and tuition tax credits.
In his article, Sweetland reviews the economics principles that have been brought into the school choice debate. Sweetland discusses free markets and the concept of competition and notes “today the school must cater to multiple social, political, religious, and economic demands. A consumer orientation is developing, but who is the customer?” Sweetland answers this question with “everyone” is the customer as “the public school complex was designed to serve everyone, not just the best, brightest, or most able.” By introducing competition (i.e. vouchers) as a choice for parents will “drive schooling costs down and effectiveness up.”
Fowler goes beyond the “superficial levels” of the school choice debate which are “how students should be assigned to schools? and which schools should receive public funding?” to briefly discuss the “deeper levels” of this debate. These “deeper levels” of the school choice debate include “the nature of human beings and society, the purpose of education, the right of parents to make crucial decisions about the welfare of their children, religious freedom, and the social prerequisites of democracy.” Fowler also discusses market ideology and provides a good example of inviting the chairman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee to his graduate education policy course and the chairman describes schools as businesses like McDonalds and are encouraged to compete against each other.
Gorard, Taylor and Fitz discuss the concept of “spiral of decline.” The authors describe a “spiral of decline” and how markets lead to this decline “rests heavily on two key components: a fall in numbers and an increasingly disadvantaged intake of children.” The authors conclude that it is very difficult to answer the question of school choice leading to spirals of decline primarily due to lack of longitudinal data and a “lack of agreed definitions."
Jellison Holme’s article provides a very interesting look at adult social networks and status in relation to school choice. The parents in this study had the financial means to either attend a private school or to move to a neighboring city and send their children to public schools they felt would be the best. Rather than investigating all of the educational opportunities available to them in their local and surrounding areas they relied on the advice of their social network of peers to guide their decisions to purchase a new home in a new community. Regardless of this being an appropriate method or not, those families who did decide to move were, in a way, increasing their social capital.
Sliwka and Istance provide an interesting European perspective and overview to the school choice debate. One of the main focuses of their article is on diversity through alternative forms of schooling such as selective vs. non-selective, public vs. private, and formal vs. home schooling. In there article, Sliwka and Istance look at “exit” behavior as a result of school choice. They describe this “exit” behavior as “choosing a different school, or even abandoning formal schooling altogether, means to leave another school behind. A key issue for school systems today is thus the impact overall of these aggregated ‘exit’ decisions – on quality, on the schools that are predominantly left behind, and on equity in general.”
While there are many “levels” to the school choice debate as seen in the literature and identified by Fowler, the main issue I see is one of economics. Economics on a personal level (micro) and what one can and cannot afford in terms of schools for their children to economics at the school level (macro) and the debate about free markets and competition have a heavy presence in the school choice debate.
Fowler, Frances C. “The Great School Choice Debate,” The Clearing House, 2002): 4-7.
Gorard, S., Chris Taylor and John Fitz. “Does School Choice Lead to ‘Spirals of Decline’?” in Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 17 no. 3, (2002): 367-384.
Jellison Holme, Jennifer. “Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality,” Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 72 no. 2, (2002): 177-205.
Sliwka, Anne and David Istance. “Choice, Diversity and ‘Exit’ in Schooling – A Mixed Picture,” European Journal of Education, Vol. 41 no. 1, (2006): 45-58.
Sweetland, Scott R. “Theory into Practice: Free Markets and Public Schooling,” The Clearing House, (2002): 6-12.