5 Questions with Ben DeGrow, The Independence Institute

Ben DeGrow is a Colorado-based public policy analyst with a focus on education labor issues. Since joining the Independence Institute in 2003, Ben has advanced its research in the areas of collective bargaining, teacher unionism, teacher employment, and school finance. He oversees the Education Policy Center’s informational Web site for teachers and coordinates the Institute’s outreach to teachers.

1) Can you summarize the meaning of school choice in one sentence?
School choice is about putting families in charge by providing access to a range of effective learning options, focusing on the needs of the student—rather than the system—first.

2) What more can be done to expand school choice across the nation or in your state?

It takes a lot of organized and intelligent effort to keep moving the ball forward on school choice, in Colorado as in any other state. It can be uphill battle, because the interests arrayed against it fear that they have much to lose. One important facet of the effort is educating policy makers and citizens about what school choice is, deflating myths and allaying many unjustifiable concerns that get introduced.

3) Why does school choice work?

The act of choice engages families more directly in the process of education, as they invest in the decisions they make. The less school systems take students for granted as an automatic funding source and have to reckon with them as a customer who may be lost, the more likely they are to be focused on quality instruction and delivering high-quality programs. Choice creates much better conditions to breed success, but it’s still up to the school and the student to maximize the results.

4) What is the biggest misconception about school choice?

Opponents propagate the story that choice undermines “public education” by draining resources and removing the best students, when high-quality research consistently challenges or outright demolishes those claims. They rally around “public education” as an institution where government controls the funding and makes all the pertinent decisions.

However, we should proudly talk about “public education” as the goal of ensuring a society in which students have the greatest potential for personal success and can lead our communities as informed citizens. The means to “public education” should reflect a broad diversity.

5) Is there an aspect of school choice that you think is often overlooked, or doesn’t receive the attention it deserves?

At least two come to mind. First, the notion of “school choice” itself is too narrow, when technology more and more enables students to customize their learning beyond the four walls of a brick-and-mortar campus. Second, to be most effective, systems of choice need transparent supplies of meaningful information for families and to minimize prescriptive regulations on schools and educational providers.

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