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It's A Gray Area: Let parents make best school choices

April 30, 2011|By James P. Gray

One simple question should resolve the "school choice" issue for most thoughtful people: "Who is in a better position to decide how and where children can best be educated: their parents or the government?"

The answer should be transparent, so why not actually allow parents to make those important decisions?

Recently there were headlines that the Los Angeles Unified School District has (finally) agreed to measure a school's success at raising its students' performance. But if parents could choose the school that their children could attend, no other rating system would be required.

Simply stated, if parents felt that their child's school was not doing as effective a job as another school within their area, they would move their child to the better performing school.

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Then, systemically, if many parents withdrew their children from a particular school, soon one of two things would happen: That school would either begin to compete by improving its services, or go out of service, or be sold to others who would do a better job. This is what happens routinely in the private sector as a result of competition, and it consistently produces good results.

Thus we would not only have better schools for college preparation, but also for almost any trade imaginable, because flexibility and innovation are the hallmarks of a competitive system. Not every child wants to or should become a Ph.D., or even go to college at all.

Many will be hugely happy and productive as computer programmers, airplane mechanics, beauticians, performers in the arts, or in countless other trades. And if there is a demand for students to learn those trades and skills, schools will be created to teach them.

So how could such a program work? The government would send a payment slip to the parents for each child that could be "spent" for that child's tuition at a school chosen by the parents, as long as the school satisfied some basic criteria set forth by the government. Whether the payment slip is called a voucher, scholarship, tax credit, educational savings account or something else, it would allow parents at all economic levels to enroll their children at the school that would best fit their needs.

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