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Posted by on Sep 11, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 comments

Review of School Choice: The Findings

School Choice: The Findings by Herbert J. Walberg deals with one of the most controversial subjects (with regards to education) today. Emotions run high whenever and wherever school choice and its potential possible effects are mentioned. Pro-choice experts and citizens often argue that the government should have no right to determine what school children attend. Anti-choice experts and citizens often claim that abolishing the current system and letting schools compete will result in de fact segregation and in low quality schools in poor areas, and high quality schools in rich areas. In School Choice: The Findings, however, Walberg decides to ignore the emotional aspects of the debate and only looks at the measurable effects of choice (except for in the sixth chapter). This non-emotional, fact based, approach is highly refreshing and required reading material for all involved in the greater debate about this issue.

When the Cato Institute published a book about school choice, it will surprise no one that the conclusion of the book (and author) is that school choice improves the quality of schools across the board and that many of the current problems in America’s education system are caused by a lack of choice in this regard. However, that does not mean that one can automatically reject the outcomes and studies cited in such a book. Sometimes ideologues are right. In School Choice: The Findings Walberg proves that libertarian ideologues are indeed right in this regard, or that – at the very least – opponents of school choice have to make a better case from now on if they talk about improving the state of American education without offering parents a choice with regards to what school they send their children.

Walberg starts off by noting that there are serious problems today. American students have performed wore during the last couple of decades and, where they were once leading the world in knowledge they are not lagging behind many other countries. Other countries, yes even European countries, offer high school students a better education which results in a better preparation for a college degree and, as a result, in higher wages once they are done studying and start working. As a result of the detoriation of the educational system, the American government has increasingly invested more money in schools, teachers and students. All, however, to no avail. Efficiency has dropped, students’ knowledge has decreased even more. As Walberg notes, people increasingly believe that school choice might be the solution for the current problems: once parents can choose, they think, competition between schools will increase and the quality of American high schools will increase as a result. After describing the current sad state of American schools, Walberg goes on to take a closer look at (the effects of) charter schools, effects of vouchers, and (the effects of) private schools. Besides looking at those different kind of schools, the author also looks at ‘customer satisfaction’ (of the students and especially their parents) and the influence of geopolitical influences.

Read my entire review of School Choice: The Findings at Monsters and Critics.

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  • flyerhawk

    One question,

    Does the book deal with the fact that school choice debates are a Federal debate but Federal education spending accounts for less than 8% of total education spending in the United States?

  • Do other countries have the lengthy summer break that American schools have? Does Mr. Walberg look honestly at the self-selection process that schools other than the general public schools have as an advantage? And it must always be remembered that it is not a simple matter of choice, it is a matter of what choices are being paid for by local school districts and how they can allocate resources.

  • Sam

    Is there any plan for improving education that involves what we expect of our students? Or their parents? I’m sorry but I’ve been to both public and private schools, and there was a theme about both. You get out what you put in. The crappy students weren’t crappy students because the facilities were bad or the teachers were idiots. They were just bad students, no effort types. How do you fix that?

    I think more needs to asked of parents and the students themselves. Instead we seem to expect the gov’t to somehow provide not only the institutions but the motivation to use them.

  • domajot

    This is such a complex subjec!

    Right off the bat, I would contest the notion that American students K-12 have ever been better educated than say, European students. We have always had a different paradigm, emphasizing developing thinking over expanding factual knowledge. The American ideal has been a well-rounded child developing as an individual, for better or worse. It has long been the rule of thumb that to gain equivalency with a HS graduate from Europe, an American needs to complete 2 years of college. The pay off was more creativity, so it was believed.

    The world changed, making higher technical demands of young adults, at the same time that the deficiencies in our system became starkly evident.
    This is made even more complex by the deficiencies in our society as a whole: high crime and incarceration rates, poor health care, segregated communities, etc. etc.
    In many ways, the problems with education reflect much broader problems, and to treat the subject of education separately, though necessary, presents a bigger challenge because of this.

    I welcome the debates and the experimentation with charter schools. Solutions that are durable require some patience to develop, however. Jumping to conclusions before enough time has elapsed to study all the repercussions would be a mistake, IMO.
    Some problens and repercussions don;t crop up right away. Some questions about what we expect of schools have not even been asked yet.
    I know that in NY, the results of experimentation have produced some great results, but at the same time have led to badly understood results for the ciry as a whole.
    So, experiment, but then digest, before committing wholesale to any one answer for every child and every community.

  • Lynx

    Doma, great comment, especially about education not being separate from the other issues in a community.

    This is one issue where I’m very much on the side of state and even local control. The level of education is tied to many things; demands of the marketplace, expectations (or not) of higher education, and a whole host of variables about the students…are they low, working, middle or upper class? What race? Are they fully American or is there a large immigrant sector? What sort of immigrants? Are they part of a close-knit community or are they bussed in from far away? Rural or urban? High crime or low?

    The very morally right insistance that all children are born with the same potential has mutated into all children can be educated the same way with the same strategies. This is fallacy, by the time a kid is in school he or she already has a load of baggage, good or bad, that must be acknowledged and dealt with.

    Another thing I see as rather negative is the absence of vocational training. Not everyone is made for college, and some training in carpentry, electricity, cooking and other skills would be very useful to such students. But again we are dealing with the pretty fiction of pretending that every student is going to be a doctor, and that admitting otherwise is condemning them to lower status. As if there were something shameful about being a carpenter.

    Jim, I’ve been a student of both the US system and one European system and at least in my case we had more vacation days here in Spain than in the US. Spain is officially Catholic and we have a whole host of saints days, in addition to Christmas, Easter and the summer months. On the other hand it’s not at all uncommon, especially in High School, to fail courses and have to study in summer to pass exams in September, or risk repeating a term (if you fail 3 or more) or carrying them over to the next term. In the US, you had to be asleep the whole term to not pass, if only with a D.

  • domajot

    Thanks for the compliment, but I’m not sure I agree with you about the solutions, and I do mean I’M NOT SURE.

    How the local/national dichotomy plays out is not at all clear to me. Local control often means focusing on group interests, not the individual’s. It is harder for an indicidualist to find his special niche in a small group of like-minded people than in a large group, where variety becomes the norm. I’, concerned that local control could become local group think.
    Vocational training is a great idea, but if it becomes the norm (i.e. best funded) in a community, the kids with high intellectual potential would be cut off at the knees.

    I tend to think that a system focused on developing an individual’s potential would serve the country best. So when there is talk of choice, we need to look at what true choices the children have.

    Does local control also mean local funding? Since our shools are largely funded by real estate taxes, we see the catastrophic disparity between wealthy and poor school districtis.

    I’m not as negative as this sounds. I bring up some questions, because it’s important to ask the questions before committing. When it’s too late, it’s too late.

    That’s why I urge caution before jumping on any one bandwagon. There is a lot of experimentation going on, I’m glad to note. It takes many, many years, however, before the full impact of this apporach or that approach can be realistically assessed.

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