Oct 25 2018

The Tapestry of American Public Education: How Can We Create a System of Schools Worth Choosing for All?

In recent years, the country has been rocked by debates about school choice. For some, school choice, in and of itself, is viewed as a major goal of policy. For others, the term raises concerns about privatization of public schools. Often forgotten in the policy debates are the fundamental questions of whether and how choice influences access to high-quality schools for all students, and whether, in our diverse democracy that requires common ground, choices promote or undermine integration.

Choice should be viewed—and evaluated—as a means to higher quality, more accessible, and, ideally, less segregated schools, not an end in it itself.

This report shifts the focus of the public school choice debate from choice as an end, to choice as a means to an end. The report suggests that choice should be viewed—and evaluated—as a means to higher quality, more accessible, and, ideally, less segregated schools, not an end in it itself. The key questions in a democratic society are whether every child has genuine choice and whether all school choices are good ones that bring young people together, not divide them further. This includes the choice of a good neighborhood school, which data show is the option preferred by parents.

Reviewing wide-ranging research on a variety of school choice strategies, the report asks whether and how public school choices can be managed in ways that ensure all students have excellent schools to choose from and all students are chosen by good schools, regardless of their zip code, race, economic status, or range of abilities.

The key question in a democratic society is whether every child has genuine choice and all school choices are good ones.

The authors look at the range of public school choices currently available in the United States—open enrollment, magnet schools, charter schools, and schools based on distinct educational models—and examine the degree to which, under varying circumstances, each is equitably accessible, improves student outcomes, and promotes diversity and inclusion. The report also provides examples of how states and districts are developing school choice policies to address these goals and shares key lessons and recommendations.


The Tapestry of American Public Education: How Can We Create a System of Schools Worth Choosing for All? by Peter W. Cookson, Jr., Linda Darling-Hammond, Robert Rothman, and Patrick M. Shields is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Sandler Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

Cover photos of students courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.