The idea of school choice goes back atleast as far as Thomas Paine, who in
The Rightsof Man
, proposed providing parents withfinancial support for sending their childrento private schools.
It was not, however, untilNobel laureate economist Milton Friedmandiscussed the idea in his 1962 classic,
Capitalism and Freedom
, that the conceptbegin to receive serious consideration inmodern America. Interest in school choiceaccelerated in 1983 following the release of ANation at Risk, a report by the NationalCommission on Excellence in Education.
The report identified a rising tide of medioc-rity in American education and forced educa-tion reformers and policymakers to take aserious look at what was wrong with theAmerican educational system.
A massivesurvey of public and private schools pub-lished by John Chubb and Terry Moe in 1990gave strong support to the growing belief that centralization and bureaucracy were themain causes of inefficiency in American pub-lic schools.
As evidence that America’s gov-ernment schools are overcentralized andbureaucratized, Chubb, Moe, and otherscholars pointed to the marked differencebetween America’s private schools and gov-ernment schools in terms of administrativeoverhead. It was noted, for example, thatNew York City had 6,000 administrators inthe government schools and only 25 in theCatholic schools even though the Catholicschools served nearly a quarter as many stu-dents.
Scholars such as David Boaz, in hisbook
Liberating Schools: Education in the Inner City
, noted the consistent trend over the lastseveral decades toward larger, centralizedschool districts.
Although in 1945, there hadbeen more than 100,000 school districts inthe United States, the number had fallen to14,881 by 1993 (see Figure 1). During thesame period, the number of studentsenrolled in public schools increased fromabout 25 million to more than 46 million, sothe number of students in each district rosedramatically.
As school districts became larger, schoolbureaucracies increased dramatically in pro-portion to the number of teachers in schoolclassrooms. Between 1960 and 1984, the
The idea of schoolchoice goes backat least as far asThomas Paine.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics,
Digest of Education Statistics
, Table 89.
Figure 1Number of Public School Districts, 1945–96
N u m b e r o f P u b l i c S c h o o l D i s t r i c t s