Concerning Choice

I am an observer from the Board on a School District committee concerning Choice Schools and their future.  Rock Hill Schools currently offers within district choice.  For certain specified schools, parents may apply to enroll their child away from their zoned schools to take part in a particular curriculum of choice.   (7)

An internet search often gives me addition information on issues related to public schools.  Reading what university, government, or school district researchers had to say about the positive and/or negative effects of a particular issue helps me form a more reasoned position beyond my pre-opinion.  My posts reflect my reading, not the position of the board or even always my opinions.

Back in the 1950’s economist Milton Freidman is credited as the first to advocate that schools become part of the market economy, i.e. parents should have choices for their children’s education. (1) From that time school choice has increased in many developed countries. (4) A position paper from an extensive study of choice in U.S. schools concluded that “school choice in the United States is here to stay and is likely to grow.” (1)  If true, the question is how to implement school choice in a way to maximize positives while limiting any negatives.  Of course, what is positive and negative varies by opinion group.

Adherents of schools choice say it allows parents to choose among various types of school programs the one which they feel best fits their child.   Those in favor say that it is legitimate for parents to have the right to choose the education for their children.  Choice introduces competition and forces underachieving schools to improve. Choice should be fair since both advantaged and disadvantaged students have the opportunity to participate. Choice may also offer declining enrollment schools opportunities to build their numbers.  (3)

Opponents worry that school choice will undermine the notion of public schools as a melting pot. Public schools provide educational and cultural experiences leading to a shared vision of citizenship.  School choice may weaken access and opportunity for the most disadvantaged students.  In the worst case, school segregation (choice) enlarges the gap between the disadvantaged and those who have a better start in life because of the greater wealth of their parents.  Disadvantaged students and those who do not choose may be stuck in ever more unequal schools. (1, 3)

Here is what research on the outcomes for choice schools indicate.  Citations for web entries are numbered and found at the close of the blog.

  1. Parents who take the opportunity for their children to move to their choice school report much higher satisfaction with the education of their children. (5,6)
  2. Some evidence exists that racially and ethnically diverse schools and schools without concentrated poverty can be optimal learning environments for students from all ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and academic potential. (3,4)
  3. Choice schools and programs often become as segregated, and in some instances, more segregated by race and socioeconomic status (SES) than the other schools in their local community. (1,2,3,4) (See the Charleston article as an example of this negative effect.  (2))
  4. While some studies have reported academic benefits (3,4) more, after controlling for socioeconomic status, have found little or no improvement in overall performance on test scores between students attending choice schools and those in non-choice schools. (3, 4, 5)

There are multiple explanations for these not entirely desired outcomes.

  1. Many forms of choice such as gifted or artistically talented by definition segregate students by ability and achievement levels.
  2. Parents prefer schools with student bodies similar to their own demographic background. (5) While academic quality is important; research shows student demographics, location, after-school activities, their children’s friends may be equally important. Increased parental choice often leads to more segregated schools because middle class parents know how to obtain the information to select choice for their children. (3)
  3. Parents from lower SES backgrounds may not have access to this information or know how to use the system. Lower SES parents may lack the information and resources to make informed choices, may lack transportation, and may, therefore, choose proximity and familiarity over choice.  Fewer parents of disadvantaged students take advantage of choice. (1,3,6)
  4. When the choice schools themselves handle the selection process evidence is that they, even if unintended, over-select from more desired population and under select from less desired applicants. Thus, English language learners, low performers, students with discipline problems, special needs children, and disadvantaged children may be under represented. (3)

Fortunately, I found numerous recommendations which allow parents and students’ choice but preserve equity:

  1. Make diversity and equity a serious district goal. Set selection criteria which achieve this goal. (3,4,5)
  2. Design choice policies to ensure diversity. Controlled-choice admission plans based on combinations of parental and students’ interest but which maintain balance in terms of residential census tracts, student achievement, poverty levels, student race among all district schools is the ideal.  (3,4)
  3. Provide transportation to choice schools. This was recommended by all (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) as one of the strongest factors in making sure all students have choice.
  4. Focus on reaching lower SES parents with information and options. Stress value of diverse schools and the opportunities diverse schools offer to all children. Provide comprehensive and accessible information to parents through multiple methods, not just the school web site.
  5. Make school choice assignments from a centralized district location to monitor and maintain equity among schools.” The criteria to enroll in a school should be the same for all students, clear and transparent, based on proximity and presence of siblings and on lottery systems, or on formulas to achieve a heterogeneous mix of students.” (4)

Rock Hill’s School Choice Committee has a serious task and I have been impressed by the thoughtful comments and questions made by parents and community members attending.  It is obvious that they are seeking information and increased pathways for success for all children.  I hope this is the outcome of their deliberations.

References cited in blog on school choice.

  1. Betts, Julian R. and Tom Loveless. (2005) School Choice, Equity, and Efficiency. Chapter 1. pp 1-13
    Retrieved from

  2. Hawes, Jennifer Berry.  Charleston SC schools:  Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice. Retrieved from

  3. Miron, Gary, Kevin G. Welner, Patricia H. Hinchey, and Alex Molnar (Editors) (2008) School Choice: Evidence and Recommendations. Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice East Lansing, MI. Retrieved from
    p 25
  4. Musset, P. (2012), School Choice and Equity: Current Policies in OECD Countries with Literature Review. Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (among 33 countries) OECD Publ. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 66.   January, 2012.    Retrieved from  and

  5. Phillips, S. H., Rahan, K. Wagner (July, 2004) School Choice: Policies and Effects Society for Advancement in Education. 1-63.
  1. Robert K. , Pirkko Yin, Ahonen S., Dawn Kim (2007)  Study of the Voluntary School Choice Program’s First Three Years  Washington DC:  US Department of Education.  Retrieved from
  1. Rock Hill Schools of Choice.
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