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March 1, 2012
Vol. 69
No. 6


School Choice, A Fix That Fails

Gary Houchens ignores the research I presented, glosses over the distinction between funding of schools and other public services, and misses the point of the Mao Zedong analogy.
With respect to the research on charters, it is not a case of "some will succeed and some will fail." It is a case of only 17 percent being better than public schools. As I explain in the article, a landmark study from a pro-charter think tank concluded that 83 percent of charters are either worse than or no better than public schools. Meanwhile, in case after case, vouchers have not delivered on their promise of improved achievement.
Contrary to Houchens's claim, financing K–12 education is not akin to financing health care or higher education. States compel attendance at public schools for students up to the age of 16; no government compels anyone to get medical treatment or attend college.
Finally, Houchens mischaracterizes the Mao Zedong analogy. My argument was that Mao's disastrous policies illustrated how ostensibly sensible policy initiatives can lead to disastrous results. My point was that even well-meant policy fixes often fail due to unintended consequences.
Since my article was published, the evidence against privatization has grown. Florida charters came out badly in a statewide investigation by the Miami Herald. Philadelphia's Office of the Controller questioned $290 million in charter school expenditures. The CEO of one Philadelphia charter school pled guilty in January to 28 counts of fraud totaling $861,000. One senses an unregulated charter system that is rife with sweetheart contracts, nepotism, conflicts of interest, and bonuses that would make a Wall Street banker blush.
Charters and vouchers have indeed proven to be fixes that fail.

James Harvey has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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