Frenier: Universal school choice would set free American spirit of innovation

Part three of a three-part series

by Carol Frenier

If the children in your community are getting into college easily without needing remedial preparation; if they can function well in language and numbers; if they are able to take on good jobs; if they understand the history, values and morals that the majority of the community shares; then the issue of school choice is unlikely to come up at all. 

But the increase in school choice programs nationally is signaling that many parents are not happy with their options and feel powerless to do anything about it.

Carol Frenier

Probably the central complaint about our public schools today is their failure to prepare our young for college or the workforce. Unfortunately, Vermont test scores reflect this national trend. In 2018 (pre-covid), only 55% of all grade nine students were proficient in English Language Arts. The Math scores were worse: only 35% proficiency. 

Harvard professors Goldin and Katz1 point to a “productivity crisis” caused in part by the reduction in the link between accountability and funding. Our robust history of grassroots educational creativity in the 20th century has been swallowed up by state and federal mandates that are linked to funding that local districts cannot afford to turn down.

Also a factor is the reduction in incentives to attract talented teachers. “Bureaucratic inflexibilities,” Goldin and Katz assert, “are legion.” 

Flexibility and multiple options are key to innovation as much now as in the past. As Thomas Sowell2 pointed out in his groundbreaking study on New York City charter schools, 

“By allowing more autonomy and flexibility in public charter schools than in the more tightly controlled traditional public schools, it was hoped that new educational policies and practices that emerge from this experiment might produce some better educational results. In that case, traditional public schools would have these new policies and practices available to use if they chose to, thereby benefitting the much larger number of students in the traditional public school sector.”

This bottom-up approach is essential in a world where the dissemination of information has exploded, and individuals can access “expert” knowledge from a nearly infinite variety of scientific and professional sources previously obtainable only to a chosen few. Individuals all over the world have used these new tools to make informed decisions about issues important to them.  The public school monopoly model is not sacrosanct; in fact it might be the least effective option for the future.

Universal school choice could recapture some of the free-wheeling innovation of the 19th and 20th centuries. Whether in sending towns or not, all parents would be free to select any school currently open to Vermont students, whether government operated or independent, regardless of where the student lives.

In the words of the 2009 Ethan Allen report on VT education4, “…the great majority of parents and children have the capacity to identify the kind of education most suitable to their children’s needs and preferences, and … public financial support for education should flow not through…bureaucracies, but directly through [parents] to a wide array of educational providers, some public, some private….”3

Critics argue that such a program would destroy our existing public schools. That was not the case when parents in previous generations freely moved from one district to another to get their children into a school they preferred. 

And school choice, it turns out, only means wholesale abandonment of a local school if a school is truly terrible. The history of school choice in multiple dozens of US cities and states demonstrates that we could expect a large percent of parents to keep their children where they are.

Nor should we imagine such a program would create administrative chaos. Vermont’s vocational technical schools. provide a model for how school choice could be managed. 

School choice, then, offers three powerful effects: 

First and foremost, it incentivizes innovation that could break us out of our educational performance malaise. 

Secondly, it would open a pathway for children with unique needs and skills to get served effectively.

Finally, it would put the power of the dollar back in the hands of communities and parents, making it possible for educators to shift their attention away from the educational bureaucracies and more toward the communities they serve. 

1.Goldin, Claudia and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race Between  Education and Technology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008.

2. Sowell, Thomas. Charter Schools and Their Enemies, Basic Books, New York, NY, 2020.

3. Ethan Allen report 2009 report on VT education, Better Value, Fewer Taxpayer Dollars: The Report of the Commission on Rebalancing Education Cost and Value.

Categories: Commentary

7 replies »

  1. If you want to take over a country, through subversion, where by your goal is to tear down the family structure, confuse the populace about their sexuality, take God out of the lives, make good little worker bees, control the minds of the populace, then you can never have school choice, you can only have one choice.

    Hence why we only have one choice.

    You will own nothing and be happy, your level of education will be completely controlled by your master, because they want you as slaves.

    The New World Order.

  2. Ms. Frenier: Some of us have been explaining the virtues of School Choice for decades. Right here in ‘river city’. So, I’m afraid, then, that your report will simply be added to the pile of similar missives already on the table next to the desk.

    The question I have for you is: how do you propose to transform the current education-industrial complex from a monopoly to the educational free market that has proven to be so effective?

    There are between 75 and 80 thousand K-12 public school students in Vermont. And the Agency of Education’s latest list of employees shows that we have 23 thousand teachers and paraeducators in the classrooms. And if you count the AOE’s entire employee list, from councilors to bus drivers, and from superintendents to maintenance workers, there are 75 thousand employees relying on the monopoly for their employment.

    But they aren’t the only people invested in the monopoly. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the only sector with a significant employment increase is the Government. In fact, in July, Vermont’s government sector experienced its greatest monthly increase in history to its highest level ever.

    Not only is the public education system a monopoly, it employs a significant majority of the Vermont electorate, that in turn elect legislators who do their bidding. The result is a Vermont legislative super-majority that is intent on preventing School Choice.

    How do you propose to break this cycle?

  3. Perhaps we should be more exact in our terminology.

    We should stop calling them Public Schools, immediately.

    They aren’t open to the public.
    They aren’t accountable to the public.

    They are run by the government.
    They are regulated by the government.
    They are compelled by the government.

    They are Government Schools.

    p.s. The are so bad they are indoctrinating our children to believe we are a democracy vs. a republic. Lies, lies, lies. They are spreading hate, wasting our money, sowing division, fostering corruption, creating anxiety and fear, telling our children the world is going to end unless you do as the government says….which is give us all your money and freedom.

    Some of us believe the Government could improve it’s grade. Our last grade in Vermont for Ethics was a D-, just sayin’

  4. How do you break the cycle? One school at a time. One town at a time.


    They know this, which is why they voted to ban day care in churches via no day care below grade. Yet it’s fine for church and sunday school. Churches are built as a raised ranch with 4′ below grade. There is no reasonable safety concern for this construction, as we have millions of raised ranches.

    No, the concern is they might find about truth and love….how to spot a liar….can’t be havin’ that in our state.

    Computers and teachers via zoom could bring back and foster small one and two room schoolhouses, like some of us went to, but bring about an quality of education, vastly superior to our government schools for $3500 per kid.

    Sunday school 6 days a week.

    • And how, again, do you break the cycle perpetrated by the tyranny of Vermont’s legislative majority? What do you do, specifically, one town at a time? Especially given that most towns have the same progressive majorities governing them, and funding is controlled by the State-wide property tax. Churches? Really?

      Does it not expose the continuing futility of this discussion when the author has no suggestions, and you and I, Neil, are the only people commenting?

      My solution? Again, how much time do you have?

      • Well, you only need one person calling out the truth….we got two! 🙂

        Yeah churches.

        Free place to educate, or close to it, help with the heat. Take a small town. There are 112,704 people that know what is going down in Vermont. If they all gave $1, we’d have a budget for 32 kids to get free education on a budget of $112, 704.

        Then do a scholarship program, it shouldn’t be for free, but they are hosing us on taxes. Suddenly you could get 3-5 towns with $5 and $10 donations from the 112,704….all of a sudden people will start to notice.

        Parents will LOVE it. Kids will LOVE it. Unions, maybe not so much.

        You aren’t “JUST” fighting the Vermont Unions, they are backed nationally. You will get no support from either party, because they are the same coin, just different sides.

        You can’t go against a trillion dollar machine, one of the largest in the nation and expect to win. Better to work quietly on small projects, and build from there. I suspect the tipping point would be 10%. If you got 10% of the student population…you’d have won the war. Just a matter of implementing after that.

        They can’t win with ANY competition, we both know that, and so do many others.

  5. Books, if our kids read them, those that are worthwhile…we’d know.

    a) David and Goliath, Daivd didn’t wrestle the giant, he was too big, he would have lost. The Wesyian Quadrilateral 1) Scripture 2) Tradition 3) Reason 4) Experience
    b) Sun Tzu – The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
    c) Rules for Radicals – Dedicated to Lucifer, used by many in leadership, taught by organizers across the country.

    “True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.” ~ Saul Alinsky

    “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)” ~ Saul Alinsky

    “The very first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.” ~ Saul Alinsky

    “The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order to slip into becoming a true believer. Before men can act an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced their cause is 100 percent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 percent on the side of the devil. He knows there can be no action until issues are polarized to this degree.” ~ Saul Alinsky

    “The third rule of ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means.” ~ Saul Alinsky