A lean, lucid discussion of the pros and cons of school choice. In fewer than 200 pages including appendix and index, Cookson (Education/Adelphi College; Preparing for Power, 1985, etc.) lays out the political and educational arguments about school choice. Reviewing the various forms of choice on the table, including magnet schools and voucher plans, Cookson pinpoints schools as the battlefield chosen by both conservatives and liberals in the struggle to shape American society. Many communities have already initiated choice programs—New York City's District 4 mini-schools, Milwaukee's limited voucher program, Minnesota's charter schools- -which Cookson examines, handing out good and bad grades. The programs' effect on academic performance seems minimal at best, and unless choice is controlled for a mix of race and ethnic background, as it is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, class stratification and racial segregation are likely to reoccur, says the author. Among other problems are inequities in funding—rich districts offer rich resources while poor districts struggle, just as they do without choice. Still, choosing a school gives parents and children a strong commitment to their school community, which enhances learning. Although Cookson condemns the market-driven forms of choice, where shopping for schools is equated with shopping for shoes, he believes that parents who object to the values taught in public schools should have an alternative, including religious schools. In his closing chapters, he proposes a version of managed choice that relies on government-regulated educational trust funds, a kind of Social Security for schooling that guarantees every child equality of education at any public, private, or religious school. A gem of a study that illuminates the debate about school choice, emphasizing the school as nurturer of children and not as political tool.
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