Improving Schools Through Choice


There is no doubt that public education in this country has failed miserably.

There is no doubt that public education in this country has failed miserably. A substantial reason for this is that parents have not been empowered with opportunities to shape the course of their children’s education.

Until now, the decision to send one’s child to school has been a passive one, because government, not the people, has dictated the terms upon which education will be provided. Parents, except in rare cases, have no real power over their children’s education within the system.

Thus, schools are left alone, with little help from the federal government, to bear the burden of rising costs of material resources and social decay; most notable is the lack of supervision leading to delinquency. It is not the fault of parents, but government bureaucracy that has caused the downfall of the American public school system.

Under a system of choice, schools will become much improved, having to compete in order to survive. Choice will not lead to continued segregation; nor has absence of choice led to integration. Rather, the power to choose should enable like-minded parents and students to enhance education in America.

We are now faced with the option of either continuing down the road of bureaucracy to ultimate failure, or, alternatively, empowering individual families to seek what is in their best interest: well-educated children. It should not be a difficult decision for us to make.

Until now, the problem has been blamed not on a failing system, but on parents and even the children themselves. How can we blame parents when, for many years, the government alone has dictated the terms upon which education will be provided? How can we blame children when only a small percentage of every education dollar gets spent in the classroom?

In the midst of an era of festering bureaucracies, the wasteful spending of the educational system has often gone unchecked. There have been countless incidents of fraud and rampant abuse of taxpayer money. Even more maddeningly, the political demands of entrenched school board elites are often heard above the concerns of parents whose children must endure gauntlets of security guards and metal detectors before they can get to their junior high school classrooms.

Before it is too late, we must remove the education of our children from the suffocating grasp of government bureaucracy and return it to families. School choice alone will not solve all of our nation’s education problems. Yet, if implemented properly, it would go a long way toward making sure the parents and students who take an interest in education are rewarded. This would work in two ways: First, giving parents vouchers that they could use at the institutions of their choice would allow their children to attend private and parochial schools that have gotten results all along. Second, the threat of losing students, and funding, would be an incentive for public schools to improve their standards and get results.

Some are quick to criticize choice on the grounds that it will lead to continued racial segregation. I ask “how”? Choice gives everyone a fair share of money, and there is no assigning of children anywhere. Parents in Detroit from white, black, and Latino backgrounds have used school choice to create effective alternatives to public education. They seem to be more concerned with what their children learn than who they sit next to in a classroom. Moreover, a study by James Coleman, a researcher at the University of Chicago, showed that poor minority children are more likely to attend school with children of another race at parochial and independent schools than at public institutions.

Mavens of public education also complain that choice will result in the exodus of the best students from public schools, leaving the less fortunate ones behind. It is outrageous that we should penalize children who are doing well just because the educational system has failed the majority of students. Additionally, there are increasing examples of voucher-funded schools that are taking so-called “problem” children, who have been abandoned by public schools, and helping them become model students.

If nothing else, the failure of the public school system has taught us that there is no textbook answer to the question of how we should educate our children. We have learned that the solution can be found in the care and dedication of each parent and the willingness of each student to learn. Therefore, the responsibility for education should be devolved from the state and vested in the family. The time has come for those who are concerned about our educational system to join forces, making the power of choice work for them.


Williams, Armstrong. “Improving Schools Through Choice.” Crisis (February 1998): 11.

Reprinted by permission of the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962


Armstrong Williams, a native of rural South Carolina, is a nationally syndicated columnist and television talk show host.

Copyright © 1998 Crisis

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