School Choice Arguments Based on Economic Theory
Perhaps the most common argument for school choice is based on the logic of economic Monetarism. Monetarism is a school of economics founded by Milton Friedman which argues for a free market economy. Friedman's argument for school choice was that in the market competition leads to improvement in products and services. So it would be if schools were put in the position of competing for students.
Critics of school choice, however, argue that rather than improve delivery of services, choice leads to a diversion of funds from public schools. This leads to an unfair advantage for corporate and church-run schools. Further, taxpayer dollars are paying for private school education and, in the process, neglect public schools. Critics argue that for high-quality education to be available to all, the public must work to protect public education.
Others argue against the economic Monetarism theory. They claim there is no empirical evidence showing that school choice supports competition. Rather the argument made is because charter schools are unregulated, they do not find it necessary to follow a basic curriculum. This alone does not foster competition.
School Choice Arguments Based on Parental Choice
The second argument for school choice is based on the free market of delivery of services. If there is competition in the marketplace then delivery of services improves. Parents, therefore, should have the right to remove their child from low-performing schools. They ought to be able to place them in schools of their choice. In this argument, performance is based on the school's showing on test scores.
Critics argue that standardized tests do not accurately measure performance. They are one measure for sure, but not the only measure that should count. Standardized tests, they argue, correlate best with IQ tests and are not a measure of learning. They also argue the standardized test rests on an assumption that learning is linear. Educators, however, know that learning is anything but linear.
Still, others argue that parents are generally ill-equipped to make a choice of schools as a matter of competition. They may wish to send their children to a religious school in which case, they select a school that is connected to their domination. They may have money enough to send their child to an expensive prep school. But to make a choice based on school performance is generally beyond their expertise.
School Choice Arguments and Empirical Evidence
It seems the best way to tackle the problem of school choice is to take a look at the evidence from independent studies. Economic theory, to use the creationist argument, is only a theory. What makes a theory so robust is that scientists perform studies to validate the theory's predictions. If the theory holds, it is due to the studies that affirm the predictions. If studies do not affirm, the theory is flawed and should be abandoned. Not only are studies done, but they are subject to repetition. When reliable and valid studies find that a prediction does not hold, the theory is no longer considered viable.
Results of studies should be consistent to validate a theoretical position. This means that the vast majority of studies must affirm, upwards of 95%. Studies done with school choice theory in mind tend to be quite mixed with some affirming and a larger number denying the theory. So the questions I will discuss in the next essays will be more to the empirical side. Just what does the science or social science have to say about school choice.