Does School Choice "Work"
Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute gives a surprisingly lukewarm answer of "barely, and much less than had been promised." After more than 20 years of efforts, you'd think we'd see some clear results, but they are really equivocal.
And it's precisely what opponents predicted based on the fact that very few schools are in any way significantly different than public schools. They tend to draw from the same pool of teachers, texts, administrators, and students. They tend to teach to the same requirements.
My personal opinion (as a public school teacher) is that almost all of the low-hanging fruit for school improvement has long since been picked. Class sizes have been reduced. Early learning opportunities for preschoolers have been greatly increased by educational television, good day care and more preschool. Disabilities are tested for and recognized much earlier, before much harm is done. Many of the social issues such as equal access, integration, language barriers, cultural insensitivity, and access for the handicapped have been dealt with. These are huge improvements since the 70s.
And all these have been done by public schools, without bashing teachers or public schools, and with the enthusiastic support of teachers.
They have been unsuccessfully blocked by conservatives who (a) want to maintain patterns of class and racial discrimination (b) don't want to spend the money or (c) want public institutions to fail so that their religious alternatives look good. These are many of the same people who are agitating for school choice and a host of other attacks on traditional public schooling.
Enormous pressure is put on administrators and school boards to keep improving public schools, but you can only get so much blood from a stone no matter how hard you squeeze.
The remaining big, relatively easy improvement in education will come from parents creating better family environments that encourage learning. Train parents to inspire their children to be well educated, and to perform the needed supervision to keep students on track in their studies. There is huge room for parental improvement, and we should vigorously explore public and private options for providing training and inspiration for parents.
It would also help if there is a promising economy that can provide jobs for all the educated: our 10% unemployment rate does not inspire scholarship. Imagine if we promised employment opportunities to anybody with a HS diploma as a form of social insurance, with government counter-cyclicly providing useful low-wage jobs when the private sector does not (such as in a recession.) That would be a HUGE incentive to graduate.