Educating Citizens: International Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice

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The United States is in the midst of historic experiments with publicly funded choice in K-12 education, experiments that recently received a "green light" from the Supreme Court. Other nations have long experience with the funding and regulation of nonpublic schools, including religious schools. This book asks what U.S. policymakers, public officials, and citizens can learn from these experiences. In particular, how do other countries regulate or structure publicly funded educational choice with an eye toward civic values —looking not only for improvements in test scores, but also in tolerance, civic cohesion, and democratic values such as integration across the lines of class, religion, and race?

The experience of Europe and Canada with school choice is both extensive and varied. In England and Wales, public school choice is widespread, as parents play a significant role in selecting the school their children will attend. In the Netherlands and much of Belgium, a majority of students attend religious schools at government expense. In Canada, France, and Germany, state-financed school choice is limited to circumstances that serve particular social and governmental needs. In Italy, school choice has just recently arrived on the policy agenda. In spite of the diversity of national experiences, in all of these countries choice is regulated by the government in significant and varied ways to promote civic values. In several of these countries, school choice policy itself appears to have played an important role in promoting social cohesion and integration. This book presents a wealth of experience designed to aid policymakers and citizens as they consider historic changes in American public education policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

" Educating Citizens provides a rich, panoramic view of how the American approach to school choice compares with that of other diverse, liberal democracies. The book's unusual mixture of detailed description and normative assessments by leading social scientist, lawyers, and policy analysts is required reading for anyone interested in educational innovation and in the roles of church, state, and civil society in creating democratic citizens." —Peter Schuck, Yale University and New York University Law Schools

"As Mark Twain reportedly observed about the weather, everyone complains about the lack of comparative education research but no one does much about it. Wolf and Macedo have, to excellent effect. Drawing lessons is difficult here —no European nation has the U.S. racial history or legacy —but this careful and imaginative effort will greatly benefit policymakers and citizens alike." —Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University

Jennifer Hochschild
As Mark Twain reportedly observed about the weather, everyone complains about the lack of comparative educational research but no one does much about it. Wolf and Macedo have, to excellent effect. Drawing lessons is difficult here-no European nation has the U.S. racial history or legacy-but this careful and imaginative effort will greatly benefit policymakers and citizens alike.
Harvard University
Peter Schuck
EDUCATING CITIZENS provides a rich, panoramic view of how the American approach to school choice compares with that of other diverse, liberal democracies. This book's unusual mixture of detailed description and normative assessments by leading social scientists, lawyers, and policy analysts is required reading for anyone interested in educational innovation and in the roles of church, state, and civil society in creating democratic citizens.
Yale University and New York University Law Schools
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815795179
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick J. Wolf is associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. Stephen Macedo is the Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. David J. Ferrero is director of evaluation and policy research for education programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Charles Venegoni is president of Civitas Schools in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

Educating Citizens

International Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice


Copyright © 2004 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8157-9516-5

Chapter One

Introduction: School Choice, Civic Values, and Problems of Policy Comparison


Our mandate for contributors to this volume was, at least apparently, simple. The United States is in the midst of historic experiments with publicly funding school choice in K-12 education. Other nations have long experience with the funding and regulation of nonpublic schools (as we would call them), including religious schools. What, we wanted to know, can U.S. policymakers, public officials, and citizens learn from those experiences? In particular, we wanted to know how other countries have regulated or structured public funding of educational choice with an eye not just toward improving test scores and the like, but also toward instilling civic values in students-for example, tolerance, civic cohesion, and democratic values such as integration across lines of class, religion, and race.

Do other countries take seriously the sorts of civic anxieties that are widely voiced by opponents of school choice in the United States? What is their experience with vouchers or other forms of publicly subsidized educational choice? Is publicly funding parental choice a source of civic conflict? Do public funds flow to separatist or just plain weird schools? How do other countries strike a balance between parental choice, educational pluralism, and school competition on the one hand and the public's concern with common citizenship, tolerance, and the integration of social, ethnic, and religious groups on the other?

In posing these questions we did not expect contributors to produce simple policy "lessons" as if they were cases of French wine or boxes of Belgian chocolate to be packaged for export to the United States. Nevertheless, like untold other students of public policy, we wished this time to heed the admonitions of our colleagues who study education from a comparative perspective and learn from the experience of other democracies abroad.

We were far from disappointed in what we learned from our international colleagues, and we hope readers agree. It cannot be said, however, that their response to our mandate was in any respect "simple": the long experience of other nations with publicly financed school choice does not yield simple or unambiguous lessons for makers of American education policy.

Every nation surveyed in this volume permits or encourages the public funding of nonpublic educational options, though the degree and kind of educational pluralism vary a great deal. The Dutch and Belgians go so far as to regard public funding of choice in education as a fundamental constitutional right. The Dutch educational system is founded on the principal of educational pluralism and, as a few American scholars (such as Charles L. Glenn) have for years pointed out, in the Netherlands at least, this principle seems to promote peace and satisfaction.

Nowhere among the countries we surveyed did we find dire consequences of publicly funding choice. That is not to say that all is well. All nations struggle with educational problems, and some of them are quite familiar to Americans. Everywhere, it seems, segregation by class and race in schools, because it is a consequence of residential segregation, is difficult to overcome. And nearly everywhere there is, to one degree or another, a growing concern with schools that are, or might be, run by illiberal religious minorities. All of the nations whose educational policies we discuss take a wide range of civic concerns seriously when they decide how to fund and regulate nonpublic schools.

Indeed, these countries have decided to fund nonpublic schools partly because of civic concerns. As several of our authors note, nonstate schools are generally viewed in these countries as proxies for the state in performing many important civic functions. Such a vision of broadly shared responsibility for civic education is not entirely alien to the United States. For example, Abraham Lincoln, in one of his earliest published speeches, said of respect for the laws: "[L]et it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice." It is one thing to argue, as Lincoln did, that nongovernmental institutions should assist the state in promoting civic values, but quite another to assert that the government should pay for such assistance. In the countries that we review here, it is seen to a great extent not only as defensible but also as obligatory for the government to provide resources to private schools to help them produce educated and responsible citizens. With public dollars come a wide variety of government regulations. These include the outcome-focused accountability mechanisms of Alberta, Canada (and to a lesser extent Flemish Belgium), which, because they rely on tests, are relatively unobtrusive with respect to the operation of schools. Then there are the more intrusive inspection systems of Britain, Germany, and France, which focus to a much greater degree on teaching and the educational process itself.

In one important respect the accounts presented here are largely consistent with the claims of scholars such as Charles L. Glenn and Terry M. Moe, who have long asserted that the principal lesson for Americans to take from the international experience with publicly funding school choice is that parental choice is not nearly as frightening a policy as many critics suggest. Glenn in particular has long argued that the fears of school choice opponents in the United States-fears of balkanization or social disintegration and conflict-are exaggerated and at odds with the experience of virtually the entire civilized world. From the essays that follow, Glenn's claim would appear to be true enough-but we have not yet gotten to the whole story or even to the most interesting part.

The fact that other advanced democracies embrace publicly funded parental choice without falling prey to civic disintegration is but one side of the coin. More striking still, we believe, are the astonishing systems of regulation, accountability, and control that accompany public funding in other nations. They do not provide public funds to nonpublic schools with just a few strings attached; rather, they include a host of requirements regarding curriculum, testing, teacher qualifications, and admissions. Indeed, from an American point of view, these publicly funded schools of choice hardly seem "private": government-funded schools abroad are regulated and controlled to an extent that makes them quasi-public, essentially part of one public educational system. In most of the countries we survey here, the distinction between public and private schools is not nearly as important as it is in the United States.

One major difference between attitudes toward the issue of choice overseas and those in the United States is that we did not hear much in our conversations, nor do we read much in the chapters below, of the benefits of educational markets and competition among schools. Perhaps other societies simply take the fact of competition among schools for granted. As Charles L. Glenn argues in his commentary, claims about the relative effectiveness of private and public schools-so important in U.S. policy debates-are likely to be less salient where educational choice is a fundamental right.

But it is important to understand the nature of the "right" to educational pluralism as it exists in the Netherlands and elsewhere. That right does not bring with it strong exemptions from generally applicable rules and conditions. In many European countries, the constitutional right to establish a private school coexists side by side with state authority to inspect and close down such schools. Moreover, in some societies the right to school choice is the result of historical struggles between the state and an established church, which gave rise not to a system of competing schools, with frequent entry and exit of providers, but rather to a stable division of educational responsibilities among public and religious corporate entities and pervasive public regulation of all schools. France is most striking in this regard: the only major nonpublic educational option is Catholic schooling, and the proportions of public and Catholic school pupils are kept stable by mutual agreement. The Catholic option thus serves not as an active competitor to the public sector but as a "safety valve," as Denis Meuret puts it.

In the pluralist Netherlands, groups of parents who want their children to attend a school that has a distinctive educational philosophy have a constitutional right to have the government establish and fund such a school if one does not exist nearby or if the ones that do exist are full. This commitment to educational pluralism is qualified by an extensive system of public regulation and curricular mandates, as Charles Venegoni and David Ferrero emphasize in their commentary. Even the bold Dutch experience with school choice does not represent a strong commitment to private competition and market values as such, since parents have no right to form a school simply because it would be "better" or more efficient than available schools. In the Netherlands, when it comes to starting a new school with public funds, the question is not whether you can do it better but whether you want to do it differently. And educational differences are conditioned by common requirements that include uniform teacher training and student testing.

The story that follows is in the main about a certain sort of publicly funded pluralism in education: pluralism justified by value differences but contained by significant regulation and tamed by systems that ensure accountability. This is not a story about wide-open market competition among minimally regulated schools.

Policy Comparisons and the Importance of Context

So far the story may seem simple enough. The United States could, if it wished, import European-style school choice: choice snugly contained with a regulatory framework that makes private choice an instrument of public policy, part of a larger strategy for achieving the public purposes of education. We fully recognize, however, that it may not be so simple. The wide range of educational, social, and political contexts in Western countries makes generalization hazardous.

It is rarely easy to find regulatory options that could simply be transferred to the United States. Some public school systems abroad have features that Americans will find quite surprising; in the United Kingdom, for example, public schools have mandatory Christian prayers. Policymakers in Europe are frequently careful to weigh the conformity of their school choice policies with European Union and international law. This is not to say that there are no lessons to be learned here: our commentators in Part 2 are virtually unanimous in recommending that U.S. policymakers consider outcome-based oversight policies such as that in Alberta for testing the civic knowledge of all students.

We fully recognize that some scholars have examined major school choice programs in other countries and come away with decidedly pessimistic conclusions. Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd have drawn a well-known "cautionary tale" from their study of New Zealand's program of national parental public school choice. They found that New Zealand's choice program did instigate a "flight to quality," as market theory would predict. However, economically disadvantaged families proved to be less fleet of foot than their more advantaged counterparts, resulting in a worrisome concentration of lower-income students in the worst-performing schools. Martin Carnoy and Patrick McEwan similarly cite evidence suggesting that more advantaged students have been the first to exit the public schools under the countrywide education privatization program in Chile.

Those evaluations of the experiences of New Zealand and Chile with sudden, comprehensive, and largely unregulated school choice policies should- and do-give us pause. It is certainly not our aim to recommend such an approach. While the aim of this book is to inform rather than to recommend, we have been impressed by the ways in which the countries we examine here regulate school choice for the sake of promoting the public benefits of choice. In our other work on the National Working Commission on Choice in K-12 Education, we have been concerned with the effects of school choice on "non-choosers," or those who are slow to choose.

Our mission here is to inform and to stimulate creative thinking rather than to proselytize for choice. However, we would urge readers not to reject choice because some countries have enacted what may be regarded as radical and precipitous policies. The U.S. policymaking process is famously slow, incremental, and prone to compromises that often involve government oversight and regulation. School choice policies in Chile, on the other hand, were established in 1980 by edict of the Pinochet government, which came to power in the wake of a military coup in 1973. We do not expect that to happen in the United States.

In fact, the latest incremental extension of publicly financed school choice in the United States could hardly differ more from the New Zealand and Chilean examples. Beginning with the 2004-05 school year, the recently enacted District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2004 will provide federally funded school vouchers to about 1,700 of the district's 79,000 elementary and secondary school children. Eligibility will be limited to families whose household income is below 185 percent of the poverty line, additional funds will be provided to the D.C. public school system to help improve educational outcomes, and the five-year voucher experiment is to be closely monitored by the U.S. Department of Education, the D.C. Mayor's Office, and a team of independent researchers. When U.S. policymakers enter the waters of a controversial reform such as school choice, they typically wade in slowly and cautiously. We recognize the prudence of such an approach and hope that policymakers find some inspiration in the chapters that follow.

Just as we should not too readily reject school choice because of the experiences of some nations whose school choice regulations are inadequate, so should we not uncritically embrace the choice policies and regulatory frameworks that exist abroad. To put it bluntly, we cannot accept at face value sunny reports about how school choice works in smaller and more homogeneous European societies, which turn out in any case to cringe when, for example, Muslim citizens seek their own share of public funds for schools.


Excerpted from Educating Citizens Copyright © 2004 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: School Choice, Civic Values, and Problems of Policy Comparison-by Stephen Macedo and Patrick J. Wolf 

2. Regulating School Choice to Promote Civic Values: Constitutional and Political Issues in the Netherlands-by Ben P. Vermeulen 
3. Private Schools as Public Provision for Education: School Choice and Market Forces in the Netherlands-by Anne Bert Gijkstra, Jaap Dronkers, and Sjoerd Karsten 
4. Regulation, Choice, and Basic Values in Education in England and Wales: A Legal Perspective-by Neville Harris 
5. School Choice Policies and Social Integration: The Experience of England and Wales-by Stephen Gorard 
6. Regulating School Choice in Belgium's Flemish Community-by Jan De Groof 
7. The Civic Implications of Canada's Education System-by David E. Campbell 
8. School Choice and Civic Values in Germany-by Lutz R. Reuter 
9. School Choice and Its Regulation in France-by Denis Meuret 
10. Italy: The Impossible Choice-by Luisa Ribolzi 
11. Do Public and Religious Schools Really Differ? Assessing the European Evidence-by Jaap Dronkers 

12. Civic Republicanism, Political Pluralism, and the Regulation of the Pivate Schools-by William Galston 
13. Regulatory Strings and Religious Freedom: Requiring Private Schools to Promote Public Values-by Richard W. Garnett 
14. School Choice as a Question of Design-by Charles L. Glenn 
15. Regulation in Public and Private Schools in the United States-by John F. Witte 
16. A Regulated Market Model: Considering School Choice in the Netherlands as a Model for the United States-by Charles Venegoni and David J. Ferrero

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