Residential Assignment, No School Choice: A Terrible System
Recently, I presented a paper at a conference in Madrid, Spain. The conference brought together education scholars from across Europe, with a few American interlopers such as me. My paper was focused on school choice. It was written, of course, with my American context in mind. As I spoke in favor of school choice, my comments were met with stiff opposition by a conference attendee from the U.K. After a little back and forth, I realized that something had been lost in translation (yes, we both spoke English). The difference was our context. The key phrase that set him off was “private schools.”
In the United States, school choice can mean many things. It could involve public schools in open enrollment, or public charter schools, and, increasingly, it can mean choosing a private school via a scholarship tax credit, a voucher, or an education savings account program. I was contrasting choice versus a residential assignment system that does not allow for choice. Residential assignment is what most Americans have in their local public school system. My English colleague didn’t comprehend this. They have choice within their public education system, so he thought I was arguing for a private pay system where individuals must pay for their children’s education.
Once I discovered the misunderstanding, I clarified what I was talking about. He said, “You mean students are just assigned to attend a school based on where they live and don’t have any choice?” When I said “Yes,” he replied, “Well, that’s just a terrible system.”
I couldn’t agree more.