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Topic: Choice in Schools in the U.S.
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Choice in Schools in the U.S.
Posted: Oct 14, 1998 8:59 PM
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Wall Street Journal, September 29, 1998, p. A22

Choice Goes Mainstream

Review & Outlook (Editorial)

The effort to bring choice to American education hit a milestone yesterday.
A group of 35
business and political leaders announced in Washington a plan to distribute
$172 million in
scholarships to enable more than 35,000 children to attend schools of their
choice. Rather
than merely wait for public schools to improve, these civic leaders have
decided the time has come to shake up the education system by encouraging
competitive forces.

The Children's Scholarship Fund (reachable at 800-805-KIDS) is the
brainchild of Ted
Forstmann, the chairman of Gulfstream Aerospace, and John Walton, a
director of Wal-Mart Stores. Three months ago, the two men committed $100
million to set up scholarship
programs in 38 cities. Since then, they have raised an additional $72
million from
like-minded reformers. They have also recruited a stellar and diverse
Board of Directors.

It includes civil-rights leaders such as Martin Luther King III and the
Rev. Floyd Flake.
Former Democratic Cabinet officials Henry Cisneros and Joe Califano have
signed on, as
has Miami Heat coach Pat Riley and Roger Staubach. So too have Democratic
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Breaux and former Senator Sam Nunn. Business
such as Dick DeVos of Amway, James Kimsey of America On line, Peter Lynch
of Fidelity, Julian Robertson and Stedman Graham are on board. The board
also includes such universally respected figures as Barbara Bush and Colin

Mr. Forstmann says this breadth of support demonstrates "the agreement many
people have
that we need equal opportunity and a competitive environment in education."
The need for
competition was brought home to him during his involvement with the Big
Brother program. He found that while only 30% of students in public
schools went to college, more than 90% of those from parochial schools did.
Nor were the two groups of students radically different. Nearly nine out
of 10 New York City parochial school students were minorities and more than
60% came from single-parent households.

Mr. Forstmann believes public education can be strengthened in much the
same way that
competition has improved consumer products. He notes that any system that
can enforce a
90% market share has overly monopolistic characteristics. "We have
thousands of
bureaucrats worrying about the harm private monopolies do," he says. "But
how many
people worry about the harmful effects that a public school monopoly can have?"

The answer could be found in last week's record attendance at the annual
meeting of CEO America, the umbrella group that sponsors scholarship
programs supported by private donations in more than 40 cities. Organizers
clearly feel that the political zeitgeist has shifted toward choice, a move
symbolized by the fact that a National Education Association vice president
monitored the conference.

Only a few years ago, school choice was considered a radical concept
embraced by
politicians at their peril. That's changing, but it's a sign of the times
that a group of mostly
private citizens such as Mr. Forstmann and Mr. Walton have assembled are so
far ahead of
the curve than either the politicians or the education establishment.


Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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