Readers of the blog know that I tend to advocate for choice-based alternatives to our current system of public education in which local monopolies are granted to individual schools. I think there is simply too much value to choice and competition in any endeavor to limit it to the two forms it can now take in primary and secondary education: move to a different public school district or pay out-of-pocket for private school (foregoing the amount that the school district would have otherwise had to spend to educate the child).
Charter schools have been one way of striking a balance in some areas, opening up choice within a public school district. They have made their first inroads in urban areas, where the evidence of poor outcomes for low-income populations under local monopolies has been most apparent and where the large district population makes choice for a subset of that population relatively easy to accommodate. So it is with great interest that I read this article in today's New York Times about initiatives to launch charter schools in higher-income suburbs. You can weigh the arguments for yourself, but I did want to quote one of the opponents of the charter schools as a means of showing the ideological divide:
“Public education is basically a social contract — we all pool our money, so I don’t think I should be able to custom-design it to my needs,” he said, noting that he pays $15,000 a year in property taxes. “With these charter schools, people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’ ”
Well, "you, as my neighbor," are paying for the education anyway. And I presume that "you, as my neighbor," don't want to waste your money. In which case, I should further conclude that "you, as my neighbor" would support the custom-tailoring if it generates an outcome that is no worse at a cost that is no greater than leaving the money and the child in the traditional public school. That should be the objective when communities consider breaking their local education monopolies.