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Scholars, Policy-Makers Urge Choice as the Way to Education Reform

Scholars, Policy-Makers Urge Choice as the Way to Education Reform
By Ronald Roach


While not endorsing school vouchers as the sole answer to education reform in failing urban school systems, educators and policy-makers at a libertarian think tank forum on the Brown v. Board decision said vouchers should represent a key component of such reform.

“Vouchers do help to push the movement forward,” declared the former Democratic congressman of New York Floyd Flake during his keynote talk last month at the “Educational Freedom and Urban America: Brown v. Board After Half a Century” conference at the Cato Institute in Washington.

While Flake, a noted education activist, and president of Wilberforce University in Ohio, stressed that the bulk of education reform efforts should target public schools, other conference speakers placed more emphasis on educational choice as leading the way to improved education for urban-based minority schoolchildren. During the conference, school choice for low-income students was defined as having the opportunity to attend special public charter schools; private schools through the use of publicly-funded vouchers; home school arrangements; public schools in nearby school districts; or the neighborhood public schools.

“Educational choice is the cornerstone to any broad strategy of reform,” said Dr. Howard Fuller, director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “It is clear to me that we have to have a multifaceted strategy to give our children a quality education.”

Fuller, a former Milwaukee superintendent of schools and a leader in the school choice movement, said he advocates “parental choice” for low- and middle-income families. “Too many (children) are being forced to stay in schools that do not work for them nor for their parents,” he said.

“We want to be clear that we do not see our strategy as one that would destroy public education,” Fuller noted.

Fuller said he believes the Milwaukee public school system has grown more responsive to its students and their parents since the early 1990s when school vouchers were introduced to low-income families. The parental choice movement “is not about destroying public education but refining it,” he added.

None of the other invited speakers offered a critique of school choice, but there were varied research presentations on how school voucher programs should be implemented to demonstrate effectiveness. Other conference speakers included Dr. Paul Peterson, director of the program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University; Lawrence Patrick, president and CEO of Black Alliance for Educational Options; Dr. David Salisbury, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute; and conference organizer Casey Lartigue Jr., education policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Founded in 1977, the Cato Institute sponsors research and debate that support a libertarian philosophy of limited government, individual liberty and free markets in the United States.

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