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School Choice Myths

Some special interest groups with incentives to oppose School Choice will try and parse and dissect independent scientific studies that document improvement in student performance in School Choice programs. Even theses partisan critiques, with their carefully chosen language and qualifiers, don’t try to claim that school choice programs hurt student performance.

Those who oppose School Choice legislation in Juneau would prefer to limit the options for children of economically disadvantaged families. We at Alaska School Choice believe that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend the school selected by parents, including the option for poor kids to attend a high performing private school.

Opponents of School Choice rely on myths to make their arguments. Here are some samples:

Myth: School Choice programs “leave children behind.”

Wrong . School choice “brings children forward”. The only children that are truly “left behind” are the ones who are currently forced to attend a poor performing neighborhood public school, with no other alternatives. Most public school systems are functional monopolies. Can you think of any monopolies that produce better results in a competitive environment?

Remember “Ma Bell” and the old AT&T telecommunications monopoly?  Could you imagine what it would be like if you were forced to buy your groceries from one particular government-run monopoly grocery store that was the closest to home, regardless of the price or quality? Monopolies are wasteful and inefficient and have little incentive to improve because they are not customer focused.

Without the positive incentives of competition to improve and innovate, neighborhood schools in low income areas become expensive, publicly funded “poverty traps.” School choice reverses this trend. Studies of school choice programs in places like Florida, Milwaukee and Washington DC show that student achievement actually improves in public schools exposed to the positive effects of competition from school choice programs. Here is a great summary of studies concerning school choice programs.

Myth: School Choice doesn’t improve student achievement.

False. The empirical evidence clearly shows that students who transfer to a school of their choosing perform much better and are much happier than they were in their neighborhood public schools.

If school choice didn’t improve student achievement, why would anyone voluntarily choose a private school? Any private school that didn’t achieve good results and make students and parents happy would quickly close-down as people “vote with their feet” and flee to better schools. Parents in Anchorage have limited options and “vote with their feet” to get their kids into public charter schools and alternative schools.

Myth: School Choice programs lack accountability.

Completely untrue. Choice provides the ultimate accountability. It’s much more effective than any government oversight committees.  They are accountable for satisfying parents and students. Word would travel fast if a school were to have low performance. If students from a particular private school perform poorly on standardized tests or need remedial classes to attend college — the word would get out. Parents will always pull their kids out of a low performing school  if  they have a choice. That’s the kind of accountability that is not being achieved with our current public school system.

Myth: School Choice programs are expensive.

Wrong again. Despite the huge advantage that public schools enjoy with economies-of-scale, the average private school tuition is much less than the per student cost of taxpayer funded public schools. School choice programs will produce better results for more of our kids and actually decrease the overall burden to the taxpayers. For example, the Anchorage School District per student costs are now over $17,000 per year while the average private school tuition is around $7,000. School choice is not expensive when all kids have the opportunity to achieve. In the city of Milwaukee alone, taxpayers saved $46.7 million in the 2010-11 school year from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Myth: School Choice programs rob resources from public schools.

Incorrect. Experience in other states has shown that per student spending in a public school system exposed to School Choice programs has continued to rise over the years. While public schools may experience a decrease in student enrollment as parents and kids exercise other options, their per student funding has remained the same or increased.

Myth: Public education is the “Cornerstone of U.S. Democracy.”

In actuality, widespread public education wasn’t even available until the mid-1800′s in the US. The most undemocratic countries in the world like North Korea and Cuba have “only” public education without any other option. Freedom is the cornerstone of democracy. The freedom to choose an education that best suits a child’s needs projects much more democratic values than forcing our poorest kids to participate in a government monopoly.

Myth: School Choice would create a two-tiered education system.

False again. The two-tiered system already exists. The upper tier (private school) is just not accessible to poor families and the lower tier (public school) has no incentive to improve.  The wealthy already have the opportunity to choose the school they want their children to attend — and they do.  Why then shouldn ʼ t the working class and poor be afforded the same opportunity?

Myth: School Choice will cause social fragmentation.

The evidence suggests the opposite. Neighborhood public schools tend to become stratified by income because of their locations. School Choice will offer opportunities for much more diverse campuses and better social mobility than exists today in public schools. If a poor child can attend the same private or public school that the child of wealthy parents can and therefore have the same opportunity to achieve academic excellence, how can this be the cause of social fragmentation? School choice is truly a civil right meant to empower parents and give all kids the opportunity to achieve.

Myth: School Choice will not have access for special needs students.  

Wrong again. Most current School Choice programs across the country offer a wide array of services special needs kids. Programs will emerge like the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities in Florida. This program provides a quality private school education for more than 22,000 Florida students with special needs. Alternatives for special needs students will grow along with all others, with more available school choices.