Save the child, or the ideal?

Opponents of school choice say that school choice is bad because it “abandons” children who don’t end up exercising choice. Better than letting some children pursue what their parents rightly or wrongly think is a better school, the argument goes, is fixing schools so that every child has an excellent school. (A member of the San Francisco school board gives a longer and more nuanced version of this argument on her blog, in which she says that we must limit school choice, even if some of its strongest supporters are low-income families.)

But at some point we should ask  “Haven’t we barred the doors long enough?” Efforts at reinventing public education go back decades, and public schools have been afflicted with–not enough money, too few teachers, outdated pedagogy, union work rules, pick your favorite impediment–and thousand upon thousands of students are not graduating, or graduating with substandard academic or work skills. In other words, while we experiment with school reform, children are being harmed.

That should change. It would change, at least for some kids, if we increased schooling options. Charter schools. Virtual schooling. Public financing of scholarships to attend privately owned schools. Cross-district enrollment. Freedom to choose a school within a district. Whatever.  It’s time to stop letting the perfect being the enemy of the good.

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