School Choice Is the Tool, Better Schools Are the Goal

Recently, Iowa became the latest state to pass a univeral school choice law that would open up enrollment for any student who wishes (or whose parents wish) to go to a different school – one that offers better education, more discipline, and more rigor.

School choice is a fine idea, as it prevents children from being locked into failing systems and schools. There are far too many schools that are routinely underperforming, and academic stagnation has allowed them to rot. Part of the problem is teachers’ unions, which have a history of endorsing the status quo and outright rejecting any attempts at change.

Change is bad for those unions because change is meant to make things better for children rather than the teachers. Teachers often get saddled with more or different work, and the education system demands that teachers, like their students, continue to learn and acquire new knowledge and skills. Sadly, in many places, teaching has become a jobs program for adults who are glorified babysitters and not academic champions.

What we’re seeing in these universal school choice states upends that by stripping the requirement that students (and, therefore, the money that schools get to educate them) be forced to go to certain schools due to geographic borders. Instead, the students and the money needed to educate them follow these students, and the schools that do well get more students and more money. The schools that aren’t doing well get fewer students and less money.

It’s not a perfect solution – money is necessary to operate those schools. But it should be up to the schools (the teachers and the administrators) to actively work to improve themselves and their students’ performances in order to earn back students and those vital resources.

But there is a problem with how the conservative movement has responded to the call for school choice and other education reforms. In recent years, the fight has become solely about escaping public education. Rather than being the tools to improve the education system, leaving the education system in ruins has become the goal. This won’t fix any problems, and will instead overburden the better-performing schools, causing their academic success to plummet, and it will overburden private and parochial institutions, which do not have the space and resources to accommodate students leaving public education en masse.

You must realize that you simply can’t turn off public education overnight, and in fact, many families do not have the resources, even under voucher programs, to send their kids to private institutions instead of public ones. What’s more, the public schools that remain, while abandoned, won’t just close down. They’ll still be there, with taxpayer money still operating them at a basic level. Not every student will transfer out, and those schools will continue to rot.

The absolute greatest sin in public education is stagnation, which is exactly what unions endorse when they oppose any and all reform efforts. Schools are not even going backward in this country – they’re staying absolutely still and the world is passing them by. We should be demanding better from our education system, and even while a great many of you believe (perhaps rightfully) that public education itself is a sham, our children need to be educated and we do not have enough private institutions to do the job. Public education is, in that case, a necessary evil (should you believe it is evil).

When we fight for school choice in any form (getting rid of school zones entirely or switching to voucher systems), we are fighting to force the schools that students are fleeing to get better. Our children deserve the best schools, and it’s a shame that we can’t always give it to them. But we have to keep fighting not just for our personal kids, but for all children who are stuck in a stagnant, rotting system. And that change is going to have to come from the inside – we may just have to do more to force it.


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