School Choice: Not Just for Conservatives Anymore?

Have you seen the yellow scarves around?

Image Source: Huffington Post

Image Source: Huffington Post

They are the symbol of National School Choice Week, going on right now.

In a one-minute off-the-cuff interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, scarf-clad Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed that the issue of school choice had outgrown ideology.  Support for school choice, Walker insisted, now “transcends party lines, it transcends ideological beliefs. . . .”

Walker himself is not exactly the poster child for post-culture-war dialogue.  His anti-union policies led to an unsuccessful recall attempt in Wisconsin.  In early 2011, Walker’s moves to curb collective-bargaining prerogatives led to a virtual caricature of the culture wars descending on the Capitol in Madison.

The history of “school choice” has been an ideological mishmash.  On one hand, one of the earliest and most influential proponents of vouchers has been free-market guru Milton Friedman.  As I argued in an article in Teachers College Record, Friedman saw vouchers as the single biggest reform to fix American education.  The quest for more school choice has been enthusiastically embraced by leading conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation.

Many liberals have offered across-the-board denunciations of vouchers and “school choice.”  Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, for instance, calls vouchers a thinly disguised propaganda program to divert tax dollars to religious schools.

However, some progressive leaders have supported vouchers and charter schools as a way to deliver better education to students who felt trapped in bad public schools.  Recently, however, outspoken voucher supporter Howard Fuller insisted that voucher programs must set clear limits.  If the programs did not specifically target low-income students, Fuller argued, they became just a shill for rich people.

Some education scholars have argued that the rhetoric of school choice has mainly served to redefine American democracy.  Instead of promoting equitable education choices, these authors contend, “school choice” tends to assume that free-market solutions are the only solutions, the best possible educational goals.

So is Governor Walker’s claim just a conservative pipe dream?  Has the goal of “school choice” overcome all ideological resistance?  Or will we see yet another split, between “progressive” supporters of school choice and “conservative” supporters, with “progressive” choice focusing on greater equity, and “conservative” choice emphasizing the God of the Free Market?

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s