Much of the debate over school choice has focused on how voucher systems and charter schools affect the quality of public education. But should American education really be subjected to market forces? What is the significance of this decision for American democracy?
The great hope of the school choice movement is that the introduction of market forces will make for more efficient and responsive public educational institutions. Parents become customers, and public schools become firms that compete for these customers on the open market. But, as Scott Abernathy crucially reminds us, parents are much more than customers. They are also citizens who help shape educational policy at bake sales and budget meetings, in teacher conferences and political campaigns. Abernathy challenges the assumption that public schools will necessarily improve when subjected to market-based reforms, raising instead the alarming possibility that such changes will produce a national anti-system of isolated and disconnected schools.
School Choice and the Future of American Democracy shows how school choice breaks open the boundaries of a once-closed system, allowing the parents who are most involved in their children's education to leave the public schools for private or charter institutions. Poor schools are most hurt by this drain of civic engagement. When we privatize the customer relationship in education, we risk privatizing the very foundations of our citizenship.
"Scott Abernathy takes up big questions and provides answers grounded in the complex reality of policy and politics. School Choice and the Future of American Democracy is a book written for those who understand that the world does not fit the simple explanations too often put forward."
—Clarence Stone, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland Research Professor, George Washington University
"Will school choice revive or eviscerate democratic processes and institutions? Will it narrow or exacerbate the range of educational inequities? This book takes several differently angled slices into these questions and draws intriguing answers."
—Jeffrey R. Henig, Teachers College, Columbia University, author of Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor
"Through extensive research and refreshingly impartial analysis, Scott Abernathy probes how the use of market principles to reform public schools affects democratic citizenship. Treating citizens first and foremost as customers, he finds, threatens civic engagement and the well-being of schools, especially in the nation's neediest communities. This thoughtful and balanced appraisal is must-reading for those concerned about the future of American education and democracy."
—Suzanne Mettler, Alumni Associate Professor, Syracuse University, and author of Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation