| January 31, 2013

It's School Choice Week in Oklahoma

National School Choice Week is in full swing across the country and also in Oklahoma (kudos to Gov. Mary Fallin for proclaiming it so).

As I told OETA’s Dick Pryor (see interview below), this is a week designed to highlight the many educational options available to parents, and to make the case that parents should be able to choose the safest and best options for their children—whether that’s a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school, online learning, private tutoring, homeschooling, or some customized menu of options.

As I never tire of repeating, in the 21st century “public education” shouldn’t mean your children have to go to the school bureaucratically assigned to them based on geography. Rather, we should remind ourselves that the goal of “public education” is to produce an “educated public”—regardless of where that education takes place.

What’s next for school choice in Oklahoma? Should we expand Oklahoma’s special-needs scholarships to a wider population? How about expanding Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarships? Or, how about vouchers or tax credits or Education Savings Accounts for all Oklahoma students?

I happen to believe that all students deserve choice, but for policymakers inclined to take a more targeted approach, I suggested one yesterday in The Oklahoman: Education Savings Accounts for preschoolers. As I pointed out,

In their book “Disrupting Class,” Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen and his co-authors concluded that universal pre-K is “an ineffective mechanism for addressing the challenge of better preparing children for school.” After all, universal pre-K is expensive, and not everyone needs it or wants it. In a world of scarce resources that have alternative uses, let's redirect some of that money to the tax break mentioned above, or to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

Incidentally, Dr. Christensen is not the only scholar unwilling to conclude that universal pre-K is a good public investment. Preschool expert Russ Whitehurst, the former director of the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education, also finds the evidence unpersuasive. Just last week, Dr. Whitehurst, now a senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution, wrote that “advocates of universal pre-K point to research conducted in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to support their claim that middle-class children as well as children from low-income at-risk backgrounds can benefit from a pre-K program delivered by the state. … Unfortunately the research design of the Tulsa study is critically flawed when used to draw conclusions about the impact of a state pre-K program.”

Whether we’re talking about four-year-olds or 14-year-olds, their parents deserve choices. It’s time for the state to fund students, not schools.

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