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The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program. [Paperback]

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Item Number 151071  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   240
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.24" Width: 6.12" Height: 0.64"
Weight:   0.77 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 14, 2015
Publisher   Princeton University Press
ISBN  0691089833  
EAN  9780691089836  

Availability  93 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 22, 2016 03:53.
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Item Description...

Milwaukee, one of the nation's most segregated metropolitan areas, implemented in 1990 a school choice program aimed at improving the education of inner-city children by enabling them to attend a selection of private schools. The results of this experiment, however, have been overshadowed by the explosion of emotional debate it provoked nationwide. In this book, John Witte provides a broad yet detailed framework for understanding the Milwaukee experiment and its implications for the market approach to American education. In a society supposedly devoted to equality of opportunity, the concept of school choice or voucher programs raises deep issues about liberty versus equality, government versus market, and about our commitment to free and universal education. Witte brings a balanced perspective to the picture by demonstrating why it is wrongheaded to be pro- or anti-school choice in the abstract. He explains why the voucher program seems to be working in the specific case of Milwaukee, but warns that such programs would not necessarily promote equal education--and most likely harm the poor--if applied universally, across the socioeconomic spectrum.

The book begins with a theoretical discussion of the provision of education in America. It goes on to situate the issue of school choice historically and politically, to describe the program and private schools in Milwaukee, and to provide statistical analyses of the outcomes for children and their parents in the experiment. Witte concludes with some persuasive arguments about the importance of specifying the structural details of any choice program and with a call supporting vouchers for poor inner-city children, but not a universal program for all private schools.

Voucher programs continue to be the most controversial approach to educational reform." The Market Approach to Education" provides a thorough review of where the choice debate stands through 1998. It not only includes the "Milwaukee story" but also provides an analysis of the role, history, and politics of court decisions in this most important First Amendment area.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
There's no market approach here  Jan 2, 2001
Contrary to its title, this book devotes only a dozen of its 221 pages to "the market approach to education." The rest of the book tells the story of the tiny pilot voucher program operating in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: how the legislation was written and passed, what evaluations conducted by Witte and others have found; and ruminations over the future of this and other voucher programs.

Witte's evaluation of the Milwaukee choice program is good to have in the library of serious school reform advocates, but it has been superceded by Paul Peterson and his colleagues at Harvard. Serious students of choice will find the rest of this book frustrating for several reasons.

Witte's writing style is imprecise and often marked by the use wrong words, so it is difficult to know just what he means. The worst offenses of this kind occur when he tries to discuss markets, since he seems unfamiliar with the basic vocabulary of economics. For example: "Thus while the pure market model provides an extreme case of stratification, universal vouchers will clearly increase current stratification and subsidy upward [sic] in the income stream [sic]." (207)

Witte's table of features that distinguish private from public schools bears a closer resemblance to something that might appear in a seventh grade civics textbook than something produced by a writer familiar with public choice literature. Even elementary insights from microeconomics are missing: He cannot believe anyone would "open a school in the ghetto" under a voucher system, apparently unaware that profit margins could easily be as high or higher in privately run inner-city schools than in affluent suburbs.

Witte's objections to "the market approach to education" come down to his assertion, often repeated but never substantiated by data or even good rhetoric, that vouchers would lead to "more stratified schools," by which he variously means more segregated, less equally funded, or less accessible to students from middle- and lower-income families. Given the "savage inequalities" of current government school systems, it is a weak and conflicted claim to make.

A Study of Milwaukee Vouchers  Apr 27, 2000
Witte's book can be divided into two main areas for critique. The first is the credible presentation of fact-based information. The second and less legitimate section is Witte's advocacy of the voucher program.

In its straight-forward, relatively unbiased assessment of the voucher program in Milwaukee, The Market Approach to Education serves as a useful resource to educational study. Witte presents conclusions about the program based on empirical research conducted in the first years of the its existence. Although there are tables and graphs, the information contained within the writing is completely understandable and intersting. In other words, the book is not a trail of numbers even though it presents a substantial amount of factual information.

A main source of inconsistency lies in Witte's personal conclusions and serves to discredit his argument. Witte claims to support the limited voucher program on the basis that it has the potential to aid students from disadvantaged areas. However, the evidence Witte presented seemed to suggest that private schools were no more shielded from the problems of education than the public schools, and that private schools yielded no better results than did public schools. Thus, why would he argue in favor of these targeted vouchers if they do not seem to realize their intent? Additionally, Witte states and reiterates that governmentally instituted programs which are initially targeted at a specific group of people, once deemed successful, are expanded to be implemented universally. Witte argues that this universal implementation would destroy the goals of the targeted vouchers: to work toward a more equitable system of education. The universal voucher system, Witte argues, would result in a stratification of education along socio-economic lines, just as all other commodities are economically stratified. Seeing this as contrary to the goal of educational vouchers, why would Witte support the targeted plan? His argument is somewhat schizophrenic. He, in fact, recognizes this, but does not offer any means to qualify his stance. For this reason, Witte's book loses some merit.

Where its value lies is the information contained within on the effects of the voucher system and the presentation of the potential outcomes of the program.


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