Make Good (School) Choices

Johns Hopkins’s Ashley Berner and the Manhattan Institute’s Andy Smarick discuss options and tradeoffs in restructuring American public education.

“School choice” has been the foundation of conservative education reform for generations—and often the floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and roof as well. In its purest form, the vision is for educational funding to “follow the students” in the form of vouchers paid to whatever educational institutions their families might choose. The market for education, in this vision, would ensure quality, control cost, and promote innovation—the diverse needs and preferences of children-as-customers would be efficiently served.

Still, insofar as “conservativism” entails more than free-market fundamentalism and radical individualism, incorporating concern for features of life such as institutions and obligations, community and identity, the wholesale dismantling of public education may be less than ideal. Yes, families need greater choice, both to pressure the sclerotic status quo and meet their widely varying aspirations. But the public education of a community’s children is also, in many respects, the quintessential public good—both in the technical sense that its benefits are non-rival and non-excludable, and in the much broader sense that it is a subject of utmost public interest in a democratic republic. What framework for a system of public education best balances these competing values and priorities?

In this exchange, Johns Hopkins professor Ashley Berner and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Andy Smarick discuss the variety of models in place around the nation and around the world, assess the benefits of each, and consider the potential for American education to move toward greater pluralism.

Begin reading with Ashley Berner’s opening entry.

All Entries

See more from this series

Ashley Rogers Berner is Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School Education.


Andy Smarick is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.