School choice refers to both a controversial idea in public education as well as a complex social movement that advocates for this idea.
In School Choice, Peter Cookson, Jr. attempts to explain and clarify the concept and movement in the United States. Cookson is a sociologist who has spent years studying the school choice movement and has written numerous books about education reform. In this book, Cookson comprehensively examines the history and politics behind the school choice movement. The author also looks at the controversial implications of the various prospects, and the realities and myths of the market-based models of schooling. Throughout the book, Cookson contextualizes and analyzes voices of politicians, teachers, parents, students, and school administrators from across the political spectrum.
The book contains a prologue, six chapters, and an appendix. The first two chapters examine the historical, cultural, and philosophical roots of the debate. Chapters three and four critically look at the innovative and productive potential of education reform. The author does this by examining the outcomes of plans developed and implemented in Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin. Chapter five provides a cultural and political analysis of market models of educational reform.
While the author believes that competition among schools can be productive, he never-the-less is skeptical about the possibility of markets bringing an equitable and worthwhile educational and social change. The concluding chapter discusses Cookson’s own competing vision of what school choice should be. Central to this view is a commitment to families, teachers, children, democratic ideals, and the urgent need to dismantle the bureaucracies in education. The author’s main thesis is that schools without a vision and dedication to “social responsibility” and democracy are doomed to continue the same oppressive conditions that render public schools sites of failure and turmoil rather than places of student growth and achievement. In short, Cookson wishes to reinvent public education through school choice.
The author’s writing style is accessible. There are no visual displays of information, which may disappoint some readers. However, this book is eloquently written and intended for a general audience, an audience that comprises anyone interested in or involved in education reform. The purpose of the book is to inform them of the facts as well as offer a potential goal for the movement. Cookson wants to steer the discussion away from free market principles and individual rights to one about “community rights”. As a consequence, this book will appeal more to liberals than to libertarians or conservatives. However, as a proponent for school choice, I think it is great that he is making an argument for it that will bring liberals onboard.
Overall, Cookson’s analysis of school choice provides readers with a strong foundation for looking at the variables involved in this movement. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in school choice.