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The Market Approach to Education

The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program

John F. Witte
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Market Approach to Education
    Book Description:

    Milwaukee, one of the nation's most segregated metropolitan areas, implemented in 1990 a school choice program aimed at improving the education of inner-city children by enabling them to attend a selection of private schools. The results of this experiment, however, have been overshadowed by the explosion of emotional debate it provoked nationwide. In this book, John Witte provides a broad yet detailed framework for understanding the Milwaukee experiment and its implications for the market approach to American education. In a society supposedly devoted to equality of opportunity, the concept of school choice or voucher programs raises deep issues about liberty versus equality, government versus market, and about our commitment to free and universal education. Witte brings a balanced perspective to the picture by demonstrating why it is wrongheaded to be pro- or anti-school choice in the abstract. He explains why the voucher program seems to be working in the specific case of Milwaukee, but warns that such programs would not necessarily promote equal education--and most likely harm the poor--if applied universally, across the socioeconomic spectrum.

    The book begins with a theoretical discussion of the provision of education in America. It goes on to situate the issue of school choice historically and politically, to describe the program and private schools in Milwaukee, and to provide statistical analyses of the outcomes for children and their parents in the experiment. Witte concludes with some persuasive arguments about the importance of specifying the structural details of any choice program and with a call supporting vouchers for poor inner-city children, but not a universal program for all private schools.

    Voucher programs continue to be the most controversial approach to educational reform. The Market Approach to Educationprovides a thorough review of where the choice debate stands through 1998. It not only includes the "Milwaukee story" but also provides an analysis of the role, history, and politics of court decisions in this most important First Amendment area.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2331-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    I am seated in the basement of a sixty-year-old school in the spring of 1991. The room is painted grayish green and it is clean, but clearly the space has been improvised for the music class I have been watching for twenty minutes. Twenty-three first-grade students sit on folding chairs. All are African American; there are nine boys and fourteen girls. The girls wear clean, white blouses and blue plaid, pleated skirts. The boys wear white dress shirts and blue pants. The teacher is a black woman who I have heard has had problems showing up for work. She is...

  8. 2 The Enduring Controversy over Educational Choice
    (pp. 11-28)

    Considerably more verbiage has been expended than action taken concerning private school choice in American. Modern discussions of education vouchers date to 1955 when Milton Friedman first suggested them as a way to reduce the inefficiencies and monopolistic character of public schools (Friedman, 1955). Until 1996, however, the MPCP was the only example of a voucher program or any other kind of program that provided substantial public monies to private primary and secondary schools. One other program in Cleveland began in 1996. So why does the issue remain so controversial and on the political agenda in so many states? What...

  9. 3 Educational Choice and the Milwaukee Voucher Program
    (pp. 29-51)

    In recent years a number of articles and books have been written on educational choice (Wells, 1993; Henig, 1994; Cookson, 1994; Lieberman, 1993; Witte and Rigdon, 1993; Clune and Witte, 1990). It is unnecessary to describe the programs treated in this literature in great detail because these previous works do a more than adequate job. What is more important is that the reader understand the progression of policies in the context of public and private education in the United States. This chapter begins with a description of the changing status of private schools. I then outline how choice policies have...

  10. 4 Who Participates in Choice Programs?
    (pp. 52-82)

    In this chapter I address issues that affect experiments with educational vouchers, as well as debates that are central to the structure of American education. The basic issues involve the composition of our schools and the appropriateness of allowing and supporting schools that range widely in terms of educational expectations, goals, and results for children. Put in oversimplified terms, should we allow or encourage a wide variety of schools, catering to specialized student skills, abilities, and desires, or should we attempt to create schools with similar approaches and with similar mixes of student abilities? Further, should we allow parents with...

  11. 5 The Milwaukee Choice Schools
    (pp. 83-111)

    The private schools participating in the MPCP were not a representative sample of private schools in Milwaukee or elsewhere in the nation.¹ However, the case studies and contacts I maintained with these schools over five years are still extremely valuable in understanding the character and diversity of private schools and their advantages and disadvantages when compared to public schools. They are also useful in describing the difficulties and successes that are possible in a difficult educational environment.

    In describing these schools, I will stress three themes. First, these MPCP schools were extremely diverse in terms of fundamental mission, approach to...

  12. 6 Outcomes of the Milwaukee Voucher Program
    (pp. 112-156)

    This chapter contains a healthy portion of quantitative data on the outcomes of the Milwaukee voucher program. It also includes some nonquantitative results, which may stay longer in the minds of the reader, but unfortunately have less serious impact. What troubles me is that most of what I suspect is important about education is not easily adaptable to quantitative analysis because it occurs in a quiet way, over a period of time that is not subject to rigorous observation.

    For example, consider a school as a place—a place that provides a space for a child simply to be safe...

  13. 7 The Politics of Vouchers
    (pp. 157-189)

    Educational voucher advocates consistently tout the educational advantages of voucher programs. In the context of American experiments with vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland, advocates emphasize the benefits for poor, minority students. Those opposed also cast the arguments in educational terms—the advent of vouchers leading to the demise of public education by draining resources of public school systems. But neither argument may be genuine. Voucher programs are likely to have immediate and direct impacts that have little to do with educational outcomes. The battle and politics over vouchers may have more to do with money and with the allocation of...

  14. 8 Implications and Conclusions
    (pp. 190-210)

    This study has implications for American education policy, policymaking theory, and the use of experimental policy designs. Because I wish to end with the choices we face in thinking about the future of education in America, I will begin with the more general implications of voucher policies and politics for the broader questions of policy theory.

    In recent years there has been a flurry of interest in what Kenneth Bickers and Robert Stein have termed “the universalization hypothesis.” That hypothesis says simply that government programs often start with targeted populations and programs limited to those with a specific need, but...

  15. References
    (pp. 211-218)
  16. Index
    (pp. 219-221)