Public school promoter (and actor) Matt Damon has decided to send his kids to a private school in Los Angeles. Explaining that decision, he makes a very good argument for school choice: “I pay for a private education and I'm trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system.” [The Guardian, August 2]
School choice is a system in which public funding follows the child to whatever school the child’s family chooses. That system would let Matt Damon’s kids get the education he thinks is best suited for them without forcing Damon to pay more than he already pays in taxes. And it would give every other family the same option, too.
But here’s something Matt Damon may not have considered: More school choice could also be good for public schools if it forces them to compete for students. Research published recently by Education Next examined how public schools respond to the presence of competition from charter schools. The authors found much evidence that competitive responses are happening:
Where school districts once responded with indifference, symbolic gestures, or open hostility, we are starting to see a broadening of responses, perhaps fueled by acceptance that the charter sector will continue to thrive, or by knowledge that many charters are providing examples of ways to raise academic achievement. [“Competition with Charters Motivates Districts,” by Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken, Education Next, Fall 2013.]