School choice can mean many things—from allowing parents to choose among a limited group of existing public schools to giving parents public vouchers that they can redeem for tuition in any private school. The different forms of choice inspire hope and fear in different degrees, keeping the controversy going and the real problems unresolved. This Koret Task Force book reviews the furious national debate over school choice, examining the benefits of choice for children, families, and schools—and showing how properly designed choice programs can prevent the harmful outcomes choice opponents fear.
The contributors—although easily identified as members of the pro-choice side—move the debate ahead by focusing on the risks of choice and how they can be controlled. They begin by presenting powerful evidence on why choice must be judged in comparison to the real-world performance of the public school system, not against idealized standards.
They review the facts on segregation by race and social class in actual voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, New York, Dayton, and Washington, D. C., and look at the claim that schools and families are harmed when left behind by those who take advantage of new options. The authors specifically examine public charter schools operated by Edison, a for-profit provider of schools, and show that children who gain access to Edison schools are in fact the neediest in all respects. They conclude with a summary of the possible harmful consequences of choice and explain how further research can reduce remaining uncertainties about its effects.