School choice advocates often say that they “empower” parents by offering them scholarships to spend on the school of their choice. Their vision is that of parents working in an open market of vendors, free to choose and shape the way their children are educated. But in reality, the market-based approach limits the options available to parents.
For example, in an uncontrolled school choice environment, are parents really choosing schools or schools choosing which students they want to serve? Modern charter schools have developed a variety of techniques for selecting their student bodies. in School Picks: How Charter Schools Control and Shape EnrollmentKevin Wellner and Wagna Mommandi explain how charter schools attract and retain low-cost students, while refusing to admit those who face the most challenges.
Are parents really choosing the school or are the schools choosing which students they want to serve?
These practices can begin with targeted marketing. By reaching only certain types of families and choosing school locations away from low-income neighborhoods, charter operators can limit enrollment to only the students they want. And, in building out their student rosters, they are able to avoid paying for services like special education, transportation, and free lunches.
in How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice, Robert Pondicio, policy fellow at the American Enterprise Institute that focuses on K-12 education, details the ways that Success Academy—a charter series founded by Eva Moskowitz—screened some families. “Success Academy is cherry-picking parents,” Pondicio wrote, highlighting how charter schools often put a variety of obstacles in the way of parents, from meetings to requirements to volunteer hours. Chartres also uses subtle techniques to single out students, such as the use of a secret “Got to Go” list by Success Academy.
For voucher programs, which give parents money to transfer their children from public to private schools, the barriers are even stronger. Most new voucher law includes a “hands off” clause that explicitly denies that the school accepting the voucher is a government actor, meaning the state cannot interfere with the school’s operation in any way.
Most voucher programs, in other words, give private schools free reign to discriminate as they please. Whole businesses have been set up to help private Christian schools devise a strategy for maintaining particular “mission-appropriate” families. And, with the outcome of the US Supreme Court case Carson vs Makino Likely to make conservative decisions, the religious right’s ability to openly discriminate in private schools – for example, by refusing to admit LGBTQ+ students or people of color – is only bound to get worse.
Many parents, who were promised the power to choose the school most appropriate for their child, are finding that, in practice, they really have no choice but to return to one public school, which may be replaced by another. Resources to choose from have been taken away. People’s children. In such a system, public schools become schools of last resort because by law they must admit all students from their district.
Furthermore, the choice of school will likely not empower parents as parents are making these choices without being able to access all relevant information. This is a clear example of asymmetric information, a phenomenon in a market transaction where a seller knows more than a buyer.
In theory, consumer regulations are designed to balance this divide. But, in the world of school choice, there’s almost nothing that requires a charter school to disclose how it compares to other schools—of course, in terms of school-wide scores from the annual Big Standardized Test. Apart from For private schools, the information gap is even wider, as what they choose to disclose is usually prepared by the school itself. Also, third-party rankings for both, such as the list given by GreatSchools and U.S. News & World Report, usually push families toward more affluent schools.
As a result, parents with few sources of reliable information choose an option that is considered transparent. This is especially true in states such as Michigan, where there are fewer rules regarding what charter or private schools are required to disclose.
School marketing is also largely unregulated, allowing charter and private schools to make whatever claims range from the programming and financial stability of the school to the very use of the word “public” in their titles. Public schools, in contrast, may be reluctant to be as transparent as parents, but the law tends to favor parents when it comes to district transparency requirements.
Finally, because charter and private schools require only a small portion of the total local market to remain in business, disgruntled families who threaten or decide to leave the schools are easily turned. . For example, Elmwood Village Charter School in Buffalo, New York, has an enrollment of 445 students. Since the school district of Buffalo has approximately 30,000 students enrolled, Elmwood has enough replacements in case a student decides to drop out. This waiting group of applicants, as we’ve seen with Success Academy, makes it easier to screen a few families rather than try to keep everyone happy.
Instead of empowering the parents, the unregulated market offers no benefits to the parents and no legal protection.
Nor can families take recourse to the law. While it’s unfortunate that parents of students with special needs must take public schools to court to satisfy legal requirements, private schools may have no recourse to the same parents who have helped their children. rights are waived to enroll in the school. their choice.
Choice Advocates argues that the rules are unnecessary as market forces will sort themselves out. But in most situations, if the parent says, “I want to fix this, or I’m pulling my child out of here,” the response will be some version of “the door is there.” Charter and private schools only require a small percentage of available students to fill out their rosters. Instead of empowering the parents, the unregulated market offers no benefits to the parents and no legal protection.
Public schools are owned and operated by the public through elected representatives, who can be held accountable, at least in some ways. If parents wish to provide feedback on how a school is run, there are a number of avenues available to them, from public school board meetings to direct contact with their elected officials. A charter school may be owned and operated by an unelected board that meets privately far from the parent’s community.
The risky promise of parental empowerment is tempting, but for the most part, charter and private schools offer less parenting power, not more.