Blessed with broad vision and focused persistence, Wells (Education/UCLA) cuts to the heart of the school-choice debate by asking the right question (what do we want from our schools?) and by forcing related issues (tax deductions, parent rights, church/state boundaries) to their appropriate corners. After identifying the more popular ideas about educational goals (for the common good, for individual development, and for a more competitive work force), Wells demonstrates how these competing views shape and distort policy formation, and then considers the influences of recent history (e.g., desegregation) on current educational settings. Some of the more successful community responses (in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example) satisfy each of the larger goals but at a great cost--fees from transportation and parent-information centers are high. By contrast, programs driven by work-force needs alone, which ignore or even confute democratic outcomes, show less promise. Moreover, although tuition- voucher plans have been debated in many regions, few have been approved by state legislatures. Dogged by funding problems, resource and equity issues, and legal wrangling, these plans have failed to overcome local resistance, to ally with restructuring- movement advocates, or to sort out serious inconsistencies (the call for a set of national standards vs. school-site management and parental-choice priorities). In an often clamorous debate, Wells's levelheaded examination separates philosophical principle from clumsy compromise and redirects the discussion to a more purposeful arena.