NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice Essential Element in Learning

March 12, 2013

Children are too diverse in terms of which instructional approaches and which subject themes will achieve the needed engagement in the learning process for any approach to achieve even acceptable rates of success, with children mostly sorted into schools by attendance zone and into classrooms only by age, says John Merrifield, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The public school system tries to address student diversity by creating options within large, mall-like campuses. Efforts to make that approach to student diversity produce acceptable outcomes will continue, but the evidence is overwhelming in volume and urgency that policymaking needs to pursue engagement of diverse children in other ways.

An alternative to the present public policy strategy of different options in schools is "school choice," including choices developed through the entrepreneurial initiative that drives most of our economy.

Let's take this example to see how that would work, and why.

  • Suppose that Mom and Dad gradually take notice of their son's excitement and riveted attention during the sports news, and utter disengagement with the rest of the news.
  • Their son is just doing OK in his assigned public school that targets content and examples to average children.
  • Dad wonders: If only his son was in a classroom (or online setting) that taught math through sports stats, and taught reading and writing through sports stories.
  • If Dad is an entrepreneur, he might convert his idea into a school of choice, which could be highly successful as a chartered public school, or as a private school if vouchers or tax credits are available to defray the tuition cost.

The sports-stories-themed school must be a school of choice. You cannot assign children to specialized instructional approaches. The sports-stories-themed school is financially feasible if the school can recruit enough children (be their best choice) so that the combination of per pupil public funding and private funding, either from charity or family tuition copayment, is sufficient to finance the delivery of the promised curriculum.

That process of profit-loss and price change is what would determine the public-private mix of diverse schooling options on a "playing field" leveled by tuition tax credits or tuition vouchers, as explained in Merrifield's recent National Center for Policy Analysis study.

Sources: John Merrifield, "School Choice Essential Element in Learning," Austin American-Statesman, March 11, 2013. John Merrifield et al., "Private School Choice: Options for Texas Children," National Center for Policy Analysis, February 2013.


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