It’s often argued that by letting parents select private schools for their children that teach curricula and values not vetted by government, school choice would destroy American democracy. In contrast, government‐controlled schooling takes children from diverse backgrounds and forges them into unified, informed, tolerant Americans, making public schools the “bedrock” of American democracy.
In Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict, I attempted to debunk those notions, pointing out how government schooling regularly forces divisive social battles and does little to foster meaningful unity. In a new Education Next article, University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf digs deeply into a critical component of the debate, zeroing in on what civic values and knowledge schools actually teach, and what children actually learn. His analysis offers powerful evidence that the “bedrock of democracy,” compared to private education, is more like loose sand:
Findings from existing studies suggest that the effect of private schooling or school choice on civic values is most often neutral or positive. Among the group of more‐rigorous studies, 12 findings indicate statistically significant positive effects of school choice or private schooling on civic values and 10 suggest neutral results. Only one finding from the rigorous evaluations indicates that traditional public schooling arrangements enhance a civic value.