Education School Choice
Eric K. Hilgendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0033


“School choice” refers to several distinct, school-based reform initiatives that have been legislatively implemented, divisible into the categories “voucher programs” and “charter schools.” As a concept, school choice is designed to redefine the role of the parent (and student) in public education by allowing parental choice of school rather than student placement through district school clustering and feeder programs. In this regard, school choice necessitates that school districts allocate a per-pupil amount of funding for the student to use for educational purposes; however, there are significant differences in how voucher funds are allocated versus those for charter schools. With a voucher program, the funds are of highest portability and the parent may choose to send his or her child to any public or private school. With the charter school program, per-pupil funds are still allocated to the student but are funneled through whichever charter school the parent chooses. Several concerns have been raised with both programs; the primary and most common one is that both choice programs will strip public school of its necessary funding mechanisms and are especially vocal with voucher fund usage in the private and parochial sector. Opponents of charter schools similarly claim that the charter schools are divesting the districts of critical revenue; however, under federal law all charter schools are public schools. While funding does move out of the control of the district to the charter school, it remains in the public sector. Advocates of both programs claim that per-pupil revenues are not commensurate with those that noncharter/voucher students receive and, as a result, are financially constrained from providing a high-quality educational program. Within the charter school program, this problem seems most acute as schools have to provide facility costs for their schools, which must come either from a percentage of the per-pupil funds or via philanthropic efforts. Additionally, in many states charter schools also face issues of limited enrollment criteria, inequality between state and local funding, onerous authorization processes, school caps, and reauthorization procedures.

General Overviews

This section considers school choice from the policy perspective, as one option within a host of education reform options. Lubienski, et al. 2009 provides an analysis of choice through the lens of organizational theory, while Viteritti 2010 considers the reform from the market-based perspective foisted by Milton Friedman. Issues of access across district demographics are discussed in Holme and Richards 2009, and Wilkins 2010 examines the effect of parental and community involvement as a choice level, relying specifically on the effect of maternal involvement. Lauen 2009 considers choice options through the effects that graduation and nongraduation have on district resources (recidivism, remediation, and human resources), and Rosenbloom 2010 considers the concept from the perspective of access, studying those who could not participate in the program. Goldring and Phillips 2008 considers choice from the vantage point of “pulling” students to choice rather than disenfranchising them by pushing them into nonchoice schools,. Cobb and Glass 2009 discusses school choice from the perspective of social justice, using case analysis both in regulated and unregulated school-choice programs. Gooden, et al. 2008 discusses the need for school choice as a way to provide safe and effective learning environments for high-poverty, high-urban settings.

  • Cobb, Casey D., and Gene V. Glass. 2009. School choice in a post-desegregation world. In Special issue: Informing the future of school choice policy. Edited by Casey Cobb, Courtney Bell, and Robert Bifulco. Peabody Journal of Education 84.2: 262–278.

    DOI: 10.1080/01619560902810187

    This paper distinguishes between unregulated and regulated school-choice programs. Unregulated choice programs often increase stratification of students with similar demographics, while regulated choice programs increase school integration and are designed to inhibit further social stratification. The paper posits the benefit of incorporating social justice within the design of school-choice programs to enhance integration and increase efficacy, equality, and access.

  • Goldring, Ellen B., and Kristie J. R. Phillips. 2008. Parent preferences and parent choices: The public-private decision about school choice. Journal of Education Policy 23.3: 209–230.

    DOI: 10.1080/02680930801987844

    School-choice data from the Metropolitan Nashville public schools are used to better understand parents’ choice of private over public schools. The study reveals that parental involvement in school has a higher determining effect than does dissatisfaction with public schools. This study advocates a “pulling toward” effect of private schools rather than a “pushing away” effect of public schools in driving parent choice. Available online to subscribers.

  • Gooden, John S., Sonja Y. Harrington, Hyacinth E. Findlay, and Gwendolyn V. King. 2008. The unsafe school choice option: A model for school choice—policy responses. Journal of School Choice 2.2: 155–178.

    DOI: 10.1080/15582150802208642

    This paper analyzes the policy responses to the Unsafe School Choice Option, which was enacted by nine states. This school-choice concept is designed to attend to unsafe schools as well as provide learning environments that benefit students who live in high-urban, high-violence environments.

  • Holme, Jennifer J., and Meredith P. Richards. 2009. School choice and stratification in a regional context: Examining the role of inter-district choice. In Special issue: Informing the future of school choice policy. Edited by Casey Cobb, Courtney Bell, and Robert Bifulco. Peabody Journal of Education 84.2: 150–171.

    DOI: 10.1080/01619560902810120

    This study examines how school-choice patterns relate to levels of access across the district. The study reveals that students within higher levels of socioeconomic status (SES) took advantage of school choice at higher levels than did other SES groups. The article provides policy recommendations that will advocate for a higher level of access and choice equality across district demographics.

  • Lauen, Douglas L. 2009. To choose or not to choose: High school choice and graduation in Chicago. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 31.3: 179–199.

    DOI: 10.3102/0162373709339058

    This study examines the results of student participation in school-choice programs, including academies, charter schools, magnet schools, and preparatory high schools as they relate to graduation rates. Results suggest that there is a modest positive graduation benefit from exercising school choice, with a lower benefit for those students with high-poverty characteristics.

  • Lubienski, Christopher, Charisse Gulosino, and Peter Weitzel. 2009. School choice and competitive incentives: Mapping the distribution of educational opportunities across local educational markets. In Special issue: Mapping educational opportunity. Edited by Christopher Lubienski and Jack Dougherty. American Journal of Education 115.4: 601–647.

    DOI: 10.1086/599778

    This study draws on organizational theories of educational institutions and nonprofit organizations to discuss how organizational differences empower and disadvantage school-choice options. The study finds that educational incentives play a role within larger policy and demographic arenas, which must be considered for an empowered school-choice model.

  • Rosenbloom, Susan R. 2010. My so-called choice: The trappings of school choice for non-admits. Urban Review: Issues and Ideas in Public Education 42.1: 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11256-009-0121-6

    This paper deliberates over the equality offered through school choice by examination of those students who could not benefit from choice despite a desire to participate. The paper suggests improving school choice through the involvement of students, providing more access to choice, aligning policy with implementation, and following students who took advantage of school choice yet did not receive full benefits. Available online to subscribers.

  • Viteritti, Joseph P. 2010. School choice and market failure: How politics trumps economics in education and elsewhere. Journal of School Choice 4.2: 203–221.

    DOI: 10.1080/15582159.2010.483923

    This essay traces the roots of the equity approach to school choice and compares the school-choice approach to that of the market approach, as posited by Milton Friedman. The paper asserts that, similar to markets, school choice is not self-correcting, leading to increased levels of government intervention.

  • Wilkins, Andrew. 2010. Citizens and/or consumers: Mutations in the construction of meanings and practices of school choice. Journal of Education Policy 25.2: 171–189.

    DOI: 10.1080/02680930903447671

    This paper utilizes data from mothers of students who have participated in school choice. It examines how varieties of constructed identities (e.g., individual/community, consumer/citizen, and political/commercial) can inform the argument for a higher understanding of school-choice implementation.

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