I recently received an invitation to attend a conference about Milton Friedman’s legacy in a variety of policy areas, and to present a paper about Dr. Friedman’s impact on education policy. This led me to prepare a progress report on the movement to engage parents in choosing the right schools for their children’s education.
So how is Dr. Friedman’s legacy looking today, two decades after the first program to fund scholarships at private schools was approved by Wisconsin in 1990?
Homeschooling has been the fastest growing option, with an estimated 2 million students now learning at home. But more families who want to their kids to attend school are exercising a right to choose as well.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, from 1993 to 2007, there has been a 20 percent increase in the percentage of children attending private schools, from 10 percent of the total student population to 12 percent. The percentage of children attending a “chosen” public school (a public school other than their assigned school) increased from 11 to 16 percent, driven in large part by the 1.5 million children attending charter schools.
The goal of the school choice is not to drain traditional district schools of students. Instead, the goal is to enable parents to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. District schools actually have more students than ever because of the overall greater number of children in the U.S.
While adoption of school choice has been rapid by most measures, it has been maddeningly slow in comparison to the need. Supporters must redouble our efforts, and harness the power of technology to transform the 19th century factory model of education.
The movement has come a long way in 20 years, but we have miles to go to realize Dr. Friedman’s dream of a successful education for every child in America.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is the vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Fortune Favors the Bold: Reforms for Results in K-12 Education
National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts
Townhall.com: The Shape of Things To Come in American Education
Milton and Rose Friedman: “Free To Choose: A Personal Statement”