What Does Choice Have To Do With It?

A major plank of most education reform agendas is the issue of "school choice." Reformers claim that school choice gives parents the power to move their children to "better schools," and gives children a better chance of success. But what if unfettered, unregulated school choice didn't improve academic achievement, and was really a scam designed to defund poor urban school districts and destabilize public education?

School "Choice" is a False Choice

A new landmark study by Michigan State University researchers suggests that this is exactly the case. Dr. Joshua Cowen, associate professor of education at MSU, and graduate student Benjamin Creed, found that, on average, school-of-choice students in Michigan "fare no better on state standardized tests than similar students who stay in their home districts."


Cowen and Creed examined the records of more than 3 million public school students in the state between 2005-06 and 2012-13 and determined that there is no academic benefit to Michigan’s popular school of choice program. In a discussion published in Bridge, Cowen makes it clear that families have many reasons for choosing to switch schools, and academics is only one factor among many that parents consider when making the decision to change schools. Issues of safety, quality of facilities, and the variety and richness of program and curriculum offerings also play a role in these decisions for many families. But with nearly 100,000 children now attending schools outside of their "home" school districts, the study's findings offer a powerful rebuttal to those who claim the goal of school choice is the improvement of academic achievement for children.


“If you looked at say the top 50 schools in Michigan and only looked at the effect of schools of choice there, my hunch would be that you see some big positive results,” Cowen said. “Similarly if school of choice kids only went to the worst 50 schools we’d see big negatives. But that’s not how this system ‒ or any choice system ‒ works. If some kids are going to some great schools under school of choice, and others aren’t, it’s not that surprising to see on average that it kind of turns into a wash.”

ZIP Codes and Greener Grass...

As expected, school choice advocates disagreed strongly with the notion that choice may not be working as intended for Michigan's schools.

According to Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, “We’re not surprised that students who choose to leave a traditional public school and attend another traditional public school would show little academic change from the move. Given there are numerous reasons parents choose different schools for their children, we support their right to choose.”


Naeyaert's comments here represent an abrupt about-face from his previous position on choice, expressed in an August 2015 interview on the subject: "We think choice should be expanded and not restricted," Naeyaert said. "A ZIP code should never determine the educational outcomes for children."  


In spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, Mr. Naeyaert maintains his belief that school choice results in improvements in "educational outcomes for children." (Of course, he also goes on to blame parents for not making good choices: "People are looking for a better outcome, and they think a change of scenery might be better. But the grass isn't always greener. Parents have to be good consumers.")

So What's The Point?

So, if switching schools isn't improving student learning, why are parents moving their children from school to school?


Blake Prewitt, superintendent of Ferndale Schools, believes the situation is more complicated than just increased test scores. “It’s rare that someone says my kid isn’t doing well so I’m going to move them,” Prewitt said. “People move for a myriad reasons. But academics, I believe, isn’t a reason. Honestly, a lot of it ends up being demographics (such as socioeconomics and race). There is a part of the populations that feels the grass is greener somewhere else.”


But the true impact of school choice policies may have more significant, and devastating, impacts on the health and vitality of our schools and public education in general. When students move from one school district to another in Michigan, a phenomenon termed as "churn" by researchers, state aid dollars follow. Specifically, state funding of at least $7,176 follows the student, regardless of whether they enroll in a school in their home school or in a school in a neighboring community.


This "churn" often results in much-needed tax dollars being siphoned away from high-need urban schools (i.e., Detroit Public Schools, Lansing School District), and reappearing in better-funded suburban districts (i.e., Ferndale, East Lansing). In this educational version of "the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer," we are seeing tragic cuts to art and music programs in urban school districts, while wealthier school systems are able to maintain their richer curricular offerings, making their schools more attractive to school choice "churners." And the cycle is perpetuated.


The rationale behind "school choice" is the same logic that explains why so many urban centers are food deserts--big suburban grocery stores have better selections, fresher produce, nicer facilities, etc., and this competition winds up driving smaller, older, often family-owned groceries in cities out of business. This leaves lots of city dwellers without cars in a real predicament--unable to shop for fresh food for their families, forced to buy prepared foods, fast food, etc. It's also why urban centers rarely have home improvement stores, doctors' offices, dentists, and a whole host of other service providers.

The bottom line here is that "competition" is not a solution--it's the reason for many of the problems that we face as a society. And schools are not businesses--the rules that "work" for businesses don't always work in the business world, and certainly don't work in the public schools.


But perhaps more insidious is the finding "that fewer than half stay in that neighboring district. And the students who most often bounce between schools are the students most likely to be hurt academically by the instability...: "low-income, mostly African-American students who were struggling in their home school districts are the students most likely to switch back out of school of choice, according to the study." These enrollment patterns mirror the typical mobility trends found in urban districts, says Cowen. And research suggests that this mobility, and the attendant instability it generates for learners, is one of the most critical factors in terms of student learning.


In addition to having negative effects on student learning, school choice also contributes to the destabilization of schools and communities in Michigan. In the Oak Park Schools, for instance, 2,121 students travel into the district every day from outside of the district, accounting for 48 percent of the district's enrollment. At the same time, "1,004 young Oak Park residents — about a third of the community’s home-grown potential students — departed the city for schools in other communities."


It is hard to imagine that the constant influx and exodus of students in and out of the district has no impact on the development of a solid school learning communities, strong relationships among students and teachers, and a healthy sense of identity in the district's schools. With this level of "churn" in the city's schools, what does it really mean to attend the Oak Park Schools, or graduate from Oak Park High School, or to be an OPHS Knight?


The case is clear:

  • school choice policies derive no academic benefits for children or schools
  • the increased mobility and instability created by school choice policies has a negative effect on student learning
  • school choice policies defund and destabilize public schools, fraying the fabric of one of our most important social institutions

So, what should be done?

Better Choices

John C. Austin, President of the State School Board, is a vocal critic of "choice for choice's sake." Austin asks, “If cross-district choice isn’t improving education, what is the point?”, and offers two alternatives:

  1. A financial incentive model that would provide lower levels of state funding for school choice students than for in-district students, encouraging districts to invest in buildings, facilities and programs to dissuade students from seeking school placements in other districts
  2. A "managed choice" system involving enrollment caps and other regulations to ensure the maintenance of appropriate levels of racial and socioeconomic diversity across districts

“School of choice policy,” Austin said, “should be redirected toward improving learning outcomes.”

Better yet, let's just eliminate school choice policies entirely. School choice is an experiment that we have seen fail time and time again (Milwaukee, New Orleans, Michigan), and yet the reformers continue beating the same old drum. School choice policies do nothing but siphon billions from struggling school systems and exacerbate the impact of income inequality on America's children.


A far better solution is to call a halt to the school choice "experiment" altogether, and refocus our energies and attention on supporting and maintaining our public schools, making sure that all children have access to a great school in their own community. As comedian D. L. Hughly pointed out to neocon Dan Señor on HBO's "Real Time" recently,


Why do I have to leave where I came from to go to a school that is not in my neighborhood?

It says everything about where I am from is horrible.

Why is everything better where I am not?


"School choice" is a false choice. No parent should have to move their child to a different community to find a "safe" school, or feel that they have to play the lottery to get their son or daughter a quality education. School choice policies are making it harder and harder for public schools to offer rich, diverse programs in safe, well-maintained facilities as increasing levels of resources are diverted to charter and private schools under the twin guises of "school choice" and "accountability," leaving under-resourced schools ripe for the plucking.


There is nothing "reasonable" about the reformers' agenda of more tests, more accountability for teachers and schools, more charter schools, and more school choice.


Schools are not grocery stores or dry cleaners--when schools close, families are torn apart.


Schools are not businesses--when the product doesn't meet externally-dictated expectations, you can't simply toss out the parts and get a new shipment.


Children are not widgets--when they struggle, we don't discard them; we teach them differently, coach them harder, and love them more.


School choice is just another tired track from the same old reformers' playlist, repackaged as an issue of "social justice" from those who don't advocate for social justice in any other arena. But the end game is the same: punish students and teachers, destabilize schools and communities, and turn the public schools into private profit centers.

Write a comment

Comments: 43
  • #1

    Jon Lubar (Friday, 08 April 2016 15:14)

    Here is a great examination of the underlying flaws in the theory of school choice. It debunks the entire idea. http://horacemannleague.blogspot.com/2013/01/asymmetric-information-parental-choice.html

  • #2

    kathleen larsyn m.ed., m.c. (Saturday, 26 November 2016 11:34)

    about 10 years ago, my school, a Title l, in rural yet city district, saw the influx/exodus cycle begin...the first of the charters were rolling in....and it was DEVASTATING on the 101 st day when the charters got the state money and kicked the "failing" kiddos back to us....many of those children never recovered what they had lost to the charter experience...many did this several years running, parents desperately buying into the charter lies....choice/vouchers will only intensify the nightmare for students, families, community schools, and teachers....

  • #3

    Writing Services by shineessay.com (Friday, 10 March 2017 04:14)

    On the off chance that you were an instructor in your fantasy, you might manage issues of expert. From an otherworldly perspective, some trust that in the fantasy express an individual may go to an internal plane or the profound domain, where they can go to classes which aid profound development and advancement.

  • #4

    buy modafinil (Monday, 10 April 2017 10:33)

    The website is looking bit flashy and it catches the visitors eyes. Design is pretty simple and a good user friendly interface.

  • #5

    dubai brunch (Thursday, 13 April 2017)

    Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. Thank you for sharing great information to us.

  • #6

    resume samples (Saturday, 15 April 2017 15:22)

    Thank you very much for keep this information.

  • #7

    essay writing company (Wednesday, 26 April 2017 06:50)

    Understudies do have a decision to go to class. In New York, eleventh and twelfth grade is OPTIONAL (if the parent offers agree to it) unless the understudy had skip grades. At the point when an understudy skips reviews, the school anticipates that them will complete each review.

  • #8

    meditation (Saturday, 29 April 2017 02:22)

    Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading.

  • #9

    Instant Decisions (Thursday, 18 May 2017 09:44)

    Really a great addition. I have read this marvelous post. Thanks for sharing information about it. I really like that. Thanks so lot for your convene.

  • #10

    learn this here now (Friday, 26 May 2017 02:08)

    Thank you for sharing this marvelous post, this post is very informative, keep up with your hard work and would love to see more post like this in future.

  • #11

    write my research paper for me (Saturday, 27 May 2017 04:29)

    Awesome post, this post is really awesome, i have read the entire post and i must really appreciate for you hard work.

  • #12

    Michigan graphics (Monday, 05 June 2017 16:50)

    I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post.

  • #13

    Brad Pitt Leather Coat (Saturday, 24 June 2017 06:42)

    From a powerful viewpoint, some trust that in the dream express an individual may go to an inward plane or the significant area, where they can go to classes which help significant improvement and progression.

  • #14

    www.myhackscheatsgames.com (Friday, 30 June 2017 10:47)

    i read a lot of stuff and i found that the way of writing to clearifing that exactly want to say was very good so i am impressed and ilike to come again in future..

  • #15

    term paper (Friday, 07 July 2017 06:48)

    Its a great pleasure reading your post.Its full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work.

  • #16

    Russian course in hong kong (Friday, 14 July 2017 20:05)

    I admit, I have not been on this web page in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.

  • #17

    femara (Wednesday, 26 July 2017 03:45)

    The Difference Between Western Reproductive Medicine And Traditional Chinese Medicine In Their Approach To The Treatment Of Infertility Western reproductive medicine can do the following things: promote follicular development with certain medications, promote ovulation with other medications, perform intra-uterine-insemination, and in-vitro-fertilization.

  • #18

    Check this out (Tuesday, 08 August 2017 00:43)

    This content is very awesome.After reading this article,I want to say that,your work is great,keep posting this type of articles.

  • #19

    Click on this (Tuesday, 08 August 2017 00:53)

    I want to say that,this article gives me great information.Its very helpful.Keep posting this type of article.

  • #20

    refrigerator repair denver (Tuesday, 08 August 2017 04:38)

    Nice article appreciates your work and keeps up the such a positive articles.

  • #21

    read more (Tuesday, 08 August 2017 06:36)

    Your article is very good and I appreciate your article and hopping for some more informative posts. Thank you for sharing great information to us.

  • #22

    professional removal services (Friday, 11 August 2017 06:22)

    I’ve been searching for some decent stuff on the subject and haven't had any luck up until this point, You just got a new biggest fan!..

  • #23

    Akira Capsule Jacket (Thursday, 17 August 2017 07:17)

    Good site and an unbelievable point additionally I really get dumbfounded to examine this. It's superior to normal. I like survey locales which get a handle on the cost of passing on the shocking profitable resource in vain out of pocket.

  • #24

    פרגולות אלומיניום (Thursday, 24 August 2017 10:07)

    Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.

  • #25

    steam oven repair (Thursday, 21 September 2017 06:30)

    Hi! Thanks for the great information you havr provided! You have touched on crucuial points!

  • #26

    microwave repair (Thursday, 21 September 2017 11:14)

    I know your expertise on this. I must say we should have an online discussion on this. Writing only comments will close the discussion straight away! And will restrict the benefits from this information.

  • #27

    Buy essay (Friday, 29 September 2017 12:09)

    Very nice article, I enjoyed reading your post, very nice share, I want to twit this to my followers. Thanks!.

  • #28

    Classes (Thursday, 05 October 2017 06:23)

    I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day!

  • #29

    international non prescription pharmacist (Friday, 27 October 2017 14:32)

    Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but i still say this perfect.Keep trying for the best.

  • #30

    dishwasher repair (Tuesday, 07 November 2017 07:21)

    Thank you very much for the sharing! COOL..

  • #31

    obat kencing nanah (Friday, 10 November 2017 20:51)

    nice sharing, really like this post

  • #32

    www.writingessay.co.uk (Wednesday, 29 November 2017 00:27)

    I've been hunting down some average stuff regarding the matter and haven't had any fortunes up until this point, You just got another greatest fan! Great site and a mind-boggling point moreover I truly get astounded to inspect this. It's better than ordinary. I like study regions which understand the cost of passing on the stunning productive asset futile out of pocket.

  • #33

    assignment writing service uk (Monday, 11 December 2017 08:16)

    1) Do not use warming irons or blow dryers (anything that produces warm) in light of the way that this will simply hurt your hair. In case you have to, use it irrelevantly and influence a point to use warm protection to sprinkle. To extensively furthermore shield hair from warmth, take a gander at chemical and conditioners that protected against warmth.

  • #34

    Essay Help (Thursday, 14 December 2017 05:29)

    Exceptionally fascinating web journal. Alot of sites I see nowadays don't generally give anything that I'm keen on, however I'm most definately intrigued by this one. Recently imagined that I would post and let you know.

  • #35

    Dissertation Writing Service (Thursday, 14 December 2017 11:56)

    A good classroom is that one which always make their students able to learn better things by providing them best quality education and opening new ways of research and learning.

  • #36

    Leo Playcard APK (Wednesday, 03 January 2018 05:28)

    This is after that available on all android tools. The size of the application is very reduced. This makes it much more usage pleasant.

  • #37

    gani (Friday, 05 January 2018 22:02)

    thank you very much help me

  • #38

    Custom Academic Writing (Monday, 15 January 2018 05:34)

    The information you have posted is very useful. The sites you have referred was good. Thanks for sharing..

  • #39

    Write my essay for me uk (Monday, 16 July 2018 07:34)

    In my opinion the schooling d matter on your whole career, so it is necessary for parents to select the best schooling for there children as to gave them their best.

  • #40

    Business SMS (Friday, 10 August 2018 09:01)

    I have the pleasure of reading the article very carefully. I learned this as a fascinating and fascinating message and I think it is very valuable and instructive. I am grateful for their efforts in creating this article.

  • #41

    www.personalstatementfolks.co.uk/graduate-personal-statement (Monday, 17 September 2018 00:28)

    Incredible things for students you discussed here to choose for improve their academic achievement. Thanks for sharing quality piece of writing.

  • #42

    keyword-researcher (Friday, 23 November 2018 05:27)

    Hey, nice art i add your blog to my rss!

  • #43

    tatakata.com (Thursday, 28 February 2019 19:20)

    which always make their students able to learn better things by providing them best quality education and opening new ways of research and learning. <a href="http://alvindwiputra.id">alvindwiputra.id</a>