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Choosing Equality: School Choice, The Constitution, And Civil Society

by Joseph P. Viteritti

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From Publishers Weekly
In this passionately argued polemic in favor of school choice, New York University public administration professor Viteritti sets forth a proposal for a tax-supported choice or "voucher" program that would be open only to low-income children, who would be able to choose among public schools, independent private schools or religious schools. Viteritti says his plan, which particularly aims to help black and Hispanic students stuck in inadequate inner-city schools, has much in common with the redistributive social policies usually identified with a liberal agenda. But opponents of school choice will likely peg this as a conservative program that would weaken public education, fragment schools along ethnic, cultural and religious lines and undermine the separation of church and state. To these critics, Viteritti retorts that school choice will create healthy competition, inducing public schools to shape up; that minority and poor children do significantly better academically when given a choice of schools; and that today's public education system is oppressive and antiegalitarian because it deters economically disadvantaged parents from sending their kids to parochial schools. Public education's secularist ethos, he argues, goes against the pluralism that animated the early American republic. Viteritti includes a detailed assessment of assorted choice programs, such as curriculum-enriched "magnet schools," inter-district choice, black independent schools (which he endorses, while others see them as a step backward toward segregation) and state-chartered public schools that give teachers and administrators greater autonomy in setting policy and curriculum in exchange for higher levels of accountability. Voucher plans recently enacted in Milwaukee, Cleveland and the state of Florida will intensify the fierce national debate on this issue and ensure the timeliness of Viteritti's scholarly manifesto. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Washington Post, September 20, 1999
"It's getting harder to be a compassionate opponent of vouchers. Viteritti's book may have pushed me over the line."

Public Interest, spring 2000
"When school choice takes its proper place in the history of American reform movements... [this] will be a key text."

Teachers College Record, March 21, 2000
"Choosing Equality presents a strong case for school choice schemes aimed at low income families."

School Reform News, May, 2000
"... the potential to unite both the left and the right political constituencies supporting school choice. An intellectual tour de force."

Publisher's Weekly, January 3, 2000
"...passionately argued polemic in favor of school choice..."

Council for American Private Education Outlook, March 2000
"... makes a compelling case for giving needy children the chance to escape failing schools."

Political Science Quarterly, fall, 2000
"Viteritti offers an up-to-date account of a phenomenon that has been rapidly changing..."

Philanthropy, November/December 1999
"... Viteritti has combed the cumulative literature on school vouchers and constructed an argument that is both sensible and sensitive..."

National Review, March 20, 2000
"If there is a more thorough and thoughtful argument for school choice, I am unaware of it."

Book Description
America is now in the second generation of debate on school choice. The first was prompted by the provocative voucher proposal conceived by Milton Friedman in 1955 and brought into the mainstream by Chubb and Moe's seminal book Politics, Markets, and American Schools (Brookings, 1990). It introduced a pure market model in which schools would be publicly financed but privately operated. While opponents continue to contend that choice will lead to the demise of public education, the weakening of civil society, and the fostering of separate and unequal systems of education, Joseph P. Viteritti argues that these long-held assertions must give way to present realities. The rich and diverse experience we have had with magnet schools, controlled choice, inter-district choice, charter schools, privately funded vouchers, and public vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland provides a solid basis for crafting a choice policy that enhances the educational opportunities of children whose needs are not being met by the present system of public education.

Drawing on his background as a political scientist, legal scholar, and education practitioner, Viteritti starts his book with the promise articulated in the landmark Brown decision of 1954. After reviewing a variety of policy initiatives enacted to promote educational opportunity, he finds that the nation has fallen short of providing decent schooling for its most disadvantaged children, and in so doing has delayed the movement toward social and political equality. Viteritti does not contend that choice in the form of charter schools or vouchers for the poor is a solution to racial inequality, but he believes that these forms of choice can move the country in the proper direction. He insists that the nation cannot pretend to have a serious commitment to the goal of educational equality as long as choice is available only to those with the private means to afford it.

Acknowledging the serious legal and civic concerns registered by choice opponents, Viteritti turns their arguments on their heads. He proposes that providing poor people with public support to attend religious schools is consistent with the pluralist constitutional model envisioned by Madison and the practices common to contemporary democratic societies. He explains how denying choice to the poor undermines the redistributive social agenda of the modern liberal state, and how a strict standard of church-state separation is out of touch with the culture of poor minority communities where the church is the most viable institution for social progress. Viteritti warns that by failing to appreciate the crucial role that religious congregations play in inner-city neighborhoods, liberal social analysts have compromised the civic vitality of poor communities. He also admonishes conservatives to abandon the pure market approach to education reform in favor of a choice policy designed specifically to benefit the poor. He concludes that choice merits support from all sides of the political spectrum, because a sound education is an essential foundation for any policy strategy designed to promote a healthy democratic society.

From the Inside Flap
"a remarkably fresh perspective on the issue of school choice that should shift the policy debate in healthy new directions."
John E. Chubb, author "Politics, Markets and America's Schools"

" This is a thought-provoking and esseential book"
Alan Wolfe, Boston College

"Finally a roadmap for those who dare to act on the truth."
Lisa Grahaam Keegan, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Arizona

"Calmly reasoned yet passionately felt, Choosing Equality must be reconed with by all partisans in the growing debate over school choice."
Samuel G. Freedman, Columbia University

About the Author
Joseph P. Viteritti is a research professor of public administration at the Wagner School of Public Service of New York University, where he is co-chair of the Program on Education and Civil Society. He is coeditor of New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education (Yale, 1997).



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