Do you want to enroll your children in a classical school that uses traditional pedagogy? Or do you value the hands-on learning approach of a Waldorf school, instead? Is your family committed to an Islamic education that will teach Arabic and integrate faith practices into daily academic instruction, or do you prefer the global-citizenship focus of an International Baccalaureate program? What if the different temperaments and needs of your three children call for three different school settings — parochial, district and magnet? Should you move to the suburbs to access “better” schools?
Such are the decisions that well-off American families make routinely. Many are surprised to learn that in countries around the world, low-income families can make them too.
As I set out in my new report for The Manhattan Institute, The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S., nations such as England, Switzerland, Indonesia and Denmark, and provinces such as Alberta, Canada, empower parents from all walks of life to select schools — with government funding — that fit their children’s unique pedagogical needs. In plural systems, schools with distinctive cultures have different constraints and funding mechanisms, and are subject to various regulations, such as adherence to subject-specific curricular frameworks, site visits and common exit exams. The resulting systems are nimble and often produce strong academic and civic results.
Ashley Berner is deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and associate professor at the School of Education. She is the author of the new Manhattan Institute report, “The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S.,” and “Pluralism and American Education: No One Way to School” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), and delivered a TEDx talk on the topic in February 2018.
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