Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conflict inevitable in school choice Big Tent

In writing and speaking about school choice, I often stress the importance of being ecumenical. There's room in the school-choice coalition for all sorts of options: private-school vouchers and tax credits, charter schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, and more.

Still, we need to recognize that conflict is inevitable. For example, Cato Institute scholar Adam Schaeffer points out that "charter schools often provide a safer, better alternative to traditional public schools. That’s good. Charter schools also destroy private schools, decrease educational options, pull private-school students into the government education system and thereby add significant new costs to taxpayers." Indeed, a new study says charter schools are siphoning students from Catholic schools. So, yes, KIPP schools are saving kids' lives, and we should be thankful for this. But we need to do it with eyes wide open.

Another example is virtual education. I'm a big fan (having hosted an entire symposium on the topic), and can see how it blends nicely with homeschooling, for example (something state Sen. Gary Stanislawski pointed out at the National School Choice Week event last month in Edmond). And yet, as the Home School Legal Defense Association points out, “tuition-free public virtual school from home” comes with strings attached.
What you need to know is: (1) you are required to use books and materials that they have pre-approved; (2) their books and materials are limited and may not suit your student; (3) like books and materials used in every other public school in America, they cannot tell the truth about God; (4) like all other public school teachers, online public school teachers cannot tell your student the truth about God.

As Grover Norquist says of coalitions generally, "We don't eliminate conflict -- we manage it." As the education policy landscape continues to change, school-choice advocates will need to do just that.

UPDATE: As if to confirm Mr. Schaeffer's point, a story in The Oklahoman informs us that a new charter school in downtown Oklahoma City will help prevent people from "making other choices" (such as homeschooling or attending a private school).

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