Don’t Hold Children Captive to Failing Public Schools

Published January 24, 2011

Columnist Matthew Tully is bothered by the possibility that motivated parents would be the school patrons most likely to seek out the choices made possible by Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed vouchers, thereby sticking public schools with the not-so-conscientious parents who remained (“Are vouchers the best choice for students?” Jan. 16). So why not go all out with public charter schools before trying vouchers, he suggests.

The problem is that critics of independently managed charter schools across the nation are beginning to use the very same argument in a desperate effort to slow their growth. Whether used against vouchers or charters, this argument amounts to saying motivated parents and their children ought to be held captive in failing schools, in hopes that their mere presence eventually will raise performance.

While it is true that some parents follow issues of education quality more closely than do others, it is also the case that most parents want the best for their children, and parents take note of what decisions other families are making. Given a full range of school choices, a lot of parental follow-the-leader will be played, to the benefit of children.

One way to ensure the broadest possible benefit would be to implement a reform recently begun in California and now spreading to other states called the Parent Trigger, whereby a petition signed by at least half the parents in a failing school would result in all families receiving a charter school, voucher or other option.

Robert Holland
Senior fellow for education policy
The Heartland Institute