The Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI) hosted the fourth episode in a six-part series that explores how public education can improve amidst the disruption of in-person instruction caused by COVID-19-inspired restrictions.

The session, Can We Choose Our Way to Better Schools?,” featured Starlee Coleman, CEO of the Texas Charter Schools Association; Paul E. Peterson, Hoover Institution senior fellow; and Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice. The program was moderated by Wayne Lewis, president of Houghton College and former commissioner of education for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


Peterson began the session by commenting on the current state of the school-choice movement. He noted that when charter schools started to become more popular two decades ago, they performed evenly with their district counterparts. Today, there is a noticeable difference; charters are now vastly outperforming traditional public schools. Despite this deficit, traditional schools have also improved, because charters and other choice movements have encouraged greater competition in the education landscape. Peterson argued that these trends are especially apparent in some African American communities.

Enlow agreed that school choice has improved educational outcomes for students but held that policy makers need to do more to expand options for disadvantaged and minority children. He noted that children who live in poorer communities don’t have the personal finances nor per-pupil public funding that would give them the same chance to succeed as students living in more affluent neighborhoods. Furthermore, existing charter schools in those low-income communities are often filled to capacity.

The panelists also commented on the importance of increasing the supply of minority educators. Coleman said that the data demonstrates that African American students, for example, have achieved better academic outcomes when they have had black teachers. She also indicated that African American and other minority education leaders face the challenge of a complex state regulatory structure when trying to start their own charters or other choice programs. Many cannot afford the expense of hiring a lobbyist to help them navigate the education policy environment. 

Peterson asserted that the subpar performance of traditional public schools during the pandemic has given new momentum to the school-choice movement. The number of homeschoolers has doubled; many parents have also become more engaged in their children’s education and are exploring alternatives such as hiring private tutors or forming learning pods with other families.

Enlow said that, by and large, learning environments are unlikely to return to the way they were during the pre-COVID era. He argued that the pandemic has underscored that the one-size-fits-all nature of the public education system leads to disparities in learning outcomes. Instead, he advocated for “backpack funding,” whereby students would be allotted their individual portion of public school funding and use it to enroll in any school of their choice.



Starlee Coleman is the CEO of the Texas Charter Schools Association. She has 20 years of experience turning public policy ideas into laws. Through strategic public affairs and PR campaigns, grassroots engagement, and coalition development, Starlee has contributed to the passage of dozens of bills in state legislatures, Congress, and at the ballot box.   Before joining the Texas Charter Schools Association, she co-founded SchoolForward, a strategic public affairs firm to advance school choice and education reform nationwide.

Paul E. Peterson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Panelist:   Paul E. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of the Hoover Education Success Initiative, and founding editor of Education Next: A Journal of Opinion and Research. He is also the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.

Robert Enlow, EdChoice, Panelist: Robert Enlow is the President and CEO of EdChoice, which he has been involved with since 1996.  He served as a fundraiser, projects coordinator, vice president and executive director before assuming his current roles in 2009.


Wayne Lewis, Houghton College, Moderator: Dr. Lewis was recently named the sixth President of Houghton College.  He was recently the inaugural Dean of Belmont University’s School of Education.  He served as Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI) focuses on providing state leaders with sound research-based recommendations to improve education in America.

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