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School Choice

School Choice: The Moral Debate

Edited by Alan Wolfe
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    School Choice
    Book Description:

    School choice has lately risen to the top of the list of potential solutions to America's educational problems, particularly for the poor and the most disadvantaged members of society. Indeed, in the last few years several states have held referendums on the use of vouchers in private and parochial schools, and more recently, the Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of a scholarship program that uses vouchers issued to parents. While there has been much debate over the empirical and methodological aspects of school choice policies, discussions related to the effects such policies may have on the nation's moral economy and civil society have been few and far between.School Choice, a collection of essays by leading philosophers, historians, legal scholars, and theologians, redresses this situation by addressing the moral and normative side of school choice.

    The twelve essays, commissioned for a conference on school choice that took place at Boston College in 2001, are organized into four sections that consider the relationship of school choice to equality, moral pluralism, institutional ecology, and constitutionality. Each section consists of three essays followed by a critical response. The contributors are Patrick McKinley Brennan, Charles L. Glenn, Amy Gutmann, David Hollenbach, S. J., Meira Levinson, Sanford Levinson, Stephen Macedo, John T. McGreevy, Martha Minow, Richard J. Mouw, Joseph O'Keefe, S. J., Michael J. Perry, Nancy L. Rosenblum, Rosemary C. Salomone, Joseph P. Viteritti, Paul J. Weithman, and Alan Wolfe.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2542-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Alan Wolfe
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    After a long period during which the minds of most Americans turned to other matters, questions of education are now very much a central concern to them, both as parents and as citizens. Many of the issues that have begun to dominate the news and the speeches of political candidates have a long history behind them, such as school discipline, testing, character education, and issues of income and racial inequality. Accompanying them, however, has been a concern with school choice that suggests a departure from previous debates. Whether hailed as a needed kick in the pants or condemned as a...


    • One Defining Equity: Politics, Markets, and Public Policy
      (pp. 13-30)

      We are now in the second generation of debate on school choice. During the first generation, discussion focused on the economic goal of market efficiency. Proponents of the market approach have a dismal outlook on the condition of education. They place primary blame on a monopolistic system that limits government support to public schools, where 90 percent of our students are enrolled. They advocate a radical restructuring of education so that parents would be able to send their children to nonpublic schools at government expense. They believe that market competition would result in a better quality of education for all...

    • Two The Irony of School Choice: Liberals, Conservatives, and the New Politics of Race
      (pp. 31-50)

      Two different kinds of arguments have been advanced in favor of school choice. One, associated with those whom Joseph Viteritti calls the “first generation” of school choice advocates, speaks primarily about the economic advantages that accrue as schools become more responsive to the freedoms associated with the market.¹ “The interjection of competition would do much to promote a healthy variety of schools,” wrote Milton Friedman in his famous 1955 essay on school vouchers. “It would do much, also, to introduce flexibility into school systems. Not least of its benefits would be to make the salaries of school teachers responsive to...

    • Three Equity and School Choice: How Can We Bridge the Gap between Ideals and Realities?
      (pp. 51-69)

      This chapter focuses on equality-based arguments about school choice. Equality (or, as I prefer, equity) is indeed a crucial standard for assessing school choice proposals. But equity is interpreted in various ways. The best arguments for school choice invoke equity, but so do the least-defensible arguments and the least-attractive forms of school choice. It all depends on what we mean by equity.

      The strongest arguments for school choice are based on improving the education of the most-deprived children in the worst-performing urban schools. That millions of children fail to receive a good education in the United States of America is...

    • Response
      (pp. 70-76)

      The question of whether school choice should be publicly subsidized is of obvious interest and importance. Just as interesting and important are two other questions closely connected with it: (i) Which arguments for subsidizing school choice are morally compelling? and (ii) Which arguments for subsidizing school choice are politically successful? Question (i) matters because if school choice is to be publicly subsidized, it should be subsidized for good reasons. Answering (i) helps us locate those reasons. Question (ii) matters because of what answers to it show about the American electorate. The arguments that enjoy political success enjoy it because they...


    • Four Separating the Siamese Twins, “Pluralism” and “School Choice”
      (pp. 79-103)

      Discussions of pluralism and school choice assume that the two go together. Arguments rely on their inseparability, their implied identity. The promise of vouchers and tax credits, charter schools, and nonzoned schools within the public system is parental choice, and the assumption is opportunities for choice among schools that differ across dimensions that matter. Advocates are not always explicit about what pluralist dimensions we can expect to find in education—supporters are encouraged to fill in their own aspirations. In these discussions the twins are symbiotic; each reinforces the positive aspects of the other. Choice is supposed to increase pluralism,...

    • Five “Getting Religion”: Religion, Diversity, and Community in Public and Private Schools
      (pp. 104-125)

      There are many arguments for and against school vouchers or—shouldvouchersbe too politically loaded or descriptively restrictive a term—for the use of public funds, either directly or indirectly, to support private (including religious) schools. Some of these arguments are explicitly constitutional, based on one or another reading of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Although one of us is a constitutional lawyer, we emphasize at the outset that this essay is not in any way an analysis of the validity of such legal arguments, even if we make occasional descriptive reference to them....

    • Six Assessing Arguments for School Choice: Pluralism, Parental Rights, or Educational Results?
      (pp. 126-148)

      Many americans who are products of our school system cannot understand simple jury instructions or summarize basic information about schools from a simple chart. Nor can they fill out a job application or understand a train schedule. Yet a central part of the historic mission of a democratically accredited school system is to educate citizens who are capable of sitting on juries, assessing public proposals (about schools, for example), exercising their rights, fulfilling their responsibilities, and seizing their opportunities to live a good life as they see fit. A publicly accredited school system that prepares all children for a life...

    • Response
      (pp. 149-152)

      The authors of the essays in this book were asked to address the following questions: “Is there a ‘common good’ that, in the absence of a common school, is less likely to be realized? Are Americans better off when they can choose schools that best fit their own conception of morality, or should they be exposed to moralities other than their own?” Amy Gutmann, Meira and Sanford Levinson, and Nancy Rosenblum are all committed to some concept of the common good to which schools should prepare children to contribute. They do not believe that individual or parental choice is the...


    • Seven Educational Choice and Pillarization: Some Lessons for Americans from the Dutch Experiment in “Affirmative Impartiality”
      (pp. 155-172)

      Our present debates about educational choice in the United States are characterized by a variety of arguments for and against the encouragement of educational pluralism. Some of the considerations presented on both sides are superficial ones, as when a voucher plan is defended by broadsides against a public educational system that is bent on brainwashing children into secular or “occult” thoughts and practices, or when vouchers are opposed on the grounds that they will encourage “outdated” religious teachings. At their best, however, the discussions are healthy ones that assess the challenges of contemporary pluralism, with one side insisting that we...

    • Eight Protecting and Limiting School Distinctiveness: How Much of Each?
      (pp. 173-194)

      One of the charges commonly brought against policies that would provide public funding to support parental choice of schools is that they could lead to a proliferation of schools of poor quality or harmful influence upon children. The appropriate response, of course, is that government would have a continuing responsibility to ensure that no school failed its pupils in either respect. But this leads to a second charge: that government oversight would have a blighting effect upon the distinctiveness and integrity of nongovernment schools.

      Can policy makers find the right balance between protecting the distinctiveness of schools and at the...

    • Nine Catholic Schools and Vouchers: How the Empirical Reality Should Ground the Debate
      (pp. 195-210)
      JOSEPH M. O’KEEFE and S.J

      This chapter explores the moral and normative aspects of vouchers through a study of the role of inner-city Catholic elementary schools. It begins with an exploration of the voucher debate, outlining the partisan positions, the state of research about the topic, and the role of Catholic schools in the political arena. Next, it discusses the contributions and needs of Catholic schools, especially those which serve children in poverty. Lastly, it recommends a way forward, in which partisan acrimony is replaced by a realistic reform agenda that is based on the needs of children in poverty.

      The voucher approach to school...

    • Response
      (pp. 211-214)

      The three essays in this section all contain examinations of school vouchers or private choice. Professor Mouw offers a case study of the Dutch experiment in funding of religious schools; Professor O’Keefe provides a close examination of what Catholic schools in the inner city actually do and how they might better be understood; and Professor Glenn demonstrates the unusual character of American educational arrangements in comparative perspective.

      All of this is useful. But the three essays also suggest the difficulty, although not the impossibility, of separating descriptions of our current situation from the normative and moral dimensions of our educational...


    • Ten Parents, Partners, and Choice: Constitutional Dimensions of School Options
      (pp. 217-230)

      The constitution’s religion clauses are not the only constitutional norms relevant to contemporary school-choice debates. Due process liberties protect the rights of parents to guide their children’s education. Equal protection guarantees against discrimination must also guide the adoption of lawful policies and the resolution of litigation over policies. In this heady moment of school reform,¹ with experiments in public vouchers for private schooling, public charters to prompt the creation of new “charter” schools, public partnerships with nonprofit and for-profit companies, and choice options within public school systems, the rights of parents and the equality claims of students deserve as much...

    • Eleven What Does the Establishment Clause Forbid? Reflections on the Constitutionality of School Vouchers
      (pp. 231-243)

      I address, in this essay, the question of the constitutionality of school vouchers, not the question whether, as a matter of sound public policy, any state (or locality) should adopt a program of school vouchers. Because school vouchers have been such a controversial political issue, it bears emphasis, here at the outset, that the fact that a government program may be, all things considered, bad public policy does not entail that the program is unconstitutional, any more than that the program is a good idea entails that the program is constitutional. Nor does the fact that a government program is...

    • Twelve Charting a Constitutional Course between Private Values and Public Commitments: The Case of School Vouchers
      (pp. 244-270)

      The modern-day story of school choice begins three-quarters of a century ago withPierce v. Society of Sisters.¹ The Supreme Court’s decision inPiercewas a crucial event in the history of American schooling. In striking down the Oregon Compulsory Education Law, the Supreme Court made clear that the state cannot standardize children by forcing them to accept instruction from “public school teachers only.” To do so would violate the “liberty” of parents protected under the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.² At the same time, the Court recognized the state’s authority to impose reasonable regulations on private schools.

      Here the...

    • Response
      (pp. 271-278)

      The constitution of the united states, architectonically among the components of ourlegalorder, would constitute us a people and a people of a certain sort—persons who through state action must or may do some things, persons who must not do others. The three essays comprised in this section concern the implications of that Constitution for how we constitute ourselves specifically through schooling, that cardinal component of the overall architectonic through which we humans make ourselves the sort of people we shall be. The authors are exploring whatour Constitutionmeans for vouchers, regimes of government funding that would...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 279-284)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 285-342)
  11. Index
    (pp. 343-353)