Third, we should be careful about ginning up fear for political or ideological ends. These approaches to education are committed to viewing public education in rigid, moralistic terms – attacking the “evil” school policies and showing devotion to the “good” policies. Education choice is simply a commitment to creating practical and valuable learning options for the individual child to use, whatever they may be and whatever they may choose.
In addition to these beliefs, we must recognize scientific realities: The full body of research on any given education topic rarely paints a clear-cut picture of what works. Education research is far more nuanced than most want it to be, and at best it speaks in terms of generalities. It does a disservice to public discourse, and to the children who will be served by it, not to show the other side.
Education choice allows for a variety of options – that’s the point – and these options sometimes earn mixed reviews. Some choice policies are newer and may not have research answers yet available. These are real limitations. But while we are recently hearing the negative side of changing our course in education – often in response to a growing interest in it – the approach of offering increased choices also shows positive signs of improving outcomes for students and teachers.
For example, analysis of random-assignment studies of voucher programs finds modest improvements in reading or math scores, but while yearly gains are modest, the effect adds up over time. Research shows that families that use flex education spending programs find impressive parental satisfaction (71 percent of Arizona parents reported being “very satisfied,” 19 percent were “satisfied,” and 10 percent were “somewhat satisfied,” with none reporting any dissatisfaction). The most rigorous studies looking at charter schools’ impact on their traditional counterparts have generally shown modest increases in achievement in nearby traditional public schools. Some research even suggests that increased education choice would improve prospects for teachers and lessen teacher shortages.
How we approach education says a lot about how we view human beings, and we are past due for a change in how we think about this topic within our current system. All students deserve access to the best education. And the phrase “all students” encompasses thousands of unique individuals that are each “the student.” To reach each of them in meaningful ways and in practical terms, we have to consider genuine, robust education choice.