Alternative Schooling and School Choice


Edited by: Allan G. Osborne Jr., Charles J. Russo & Gerald M. Cattaro

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    Charles J. Russo

    University of Dayton

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

    Principal (Retired), Snug Harbor Community School, Quincy, Massachusetts

    Volume Editors

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

    Principal (Retired), Snug Harbor Community School, Quincy, Massachusetts

    Charles J. Russo

    University of Dayton

    Gerald M. Cattaro

    Fordham University

    Advisory Board

    Francine DeFranco

    Homer Babbidge Library, University of Connecticut

    Ralph D. Mawdsley

    Cleveland State University

    Martha M. McCarthy

    Loyola Marymount University and Indiana University

    Mark E. Shelton

    Monroe C. Gutman Education Library, Harvard University


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    About the Editors-in-Chief

    Charles J. Russo, JD, EdD, is the Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Allied Professions and adjunct professor in the School of Law at the University of Dayton. He was the 1998–1999 president of the Education Law Association and 2002 recipient of its McGhehey (Achievement) Award. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 40 books; and has in excess of 800 publications. Russo also speaks extensively on issues in education law in the United States and abroad.

    Along with having spoken in 33 states and 25 nations on 6 continents, Russo has taught summer courses in England, Spain, and Thailand; he also has served as a visiting professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and the University of Newcastle, Australia; the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; South East European University, Macedonia; the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa; the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He regularly serves as a visiting professor at the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University.

    Before joining the faculty at the University of Dayton as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration in July 1996, Russo taught at the University of Kentucky in Lexington from August 1992 to July 1996 and at Fordham University in his native New York City from September 1989 to July 1992. He taught high school for 8½ years before and after graduation from law school. He received a BA (classical civilization) in 1972, a JD in 1983, and an EdD (educational administration and supervision) in 1989 from St. John's University in New York City. He also received a master of divinity degree from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, in 1978, as well as a PhD Honoris Causa from the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University, South Africa, in May 2004 for his contributions to the field of education law.

    Russo and his wife, a preschool teacher who provides invaluable assistance proofreading and editing, travel regularly both nationally and internationally to Russo's many speaking and teaching engagements.

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr., is the retired principal of the Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, Massachusetts, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. During his 34 years in public education, he served as a special education teacher, a director of special education, an assistant principal, and a principal. He has also served as an adjunct professor of special education and education law at several colleges, including Bridgewater State University and American International University.

    Osborne earned an EdD in educational leadership from Boston College and an MEd in special education from Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) in Massachusetts. He received a BA in psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

    Osborne has authored or coauthored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and textbooks on legal issues in education, along with textbooks on other aspects of education. Although he writes and presents in several areas of educational law, he specializes in legal and policy issues in special education. He is the coauthor, with Charles J. Russo, of five texts published by Corwin, a SAGE company.

    A past president of the Education Law Association (ELA), Osborne has been an attendee and presenter at most ELA conferences since 1991. He has also written a chapter now titled “Students With Disabilities” for the Yearbook of Education Law, published by ELA, since 1990. He is on the editorial advisory committee of West's Education Law Reporter and is coeditor of the “Education Law Into Practice” section of that journal, which is sponsored by ELA. He is also on the editorial boards of several other education journals.

    In recognition of his contributions to the field of education law, Osborne was presented with the McGhehey Award by ELA in 2008, the highest award given by the organization. He is also the recipient of the City of Quincy Human Rights Award, the Financial Executives Institute of Massachusetts Principals Award, the Junior Achievement of Massachusetts Principals Award, and several community service awards.

    Osborne spends his time in retirement writing, editing, and working on his hobbies, genealogy and photography. He and his wife Debbie, a retired elementary school teacher, enjoy gardening, traveling, attending theater and musical performances, and volunteering at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

    About the Volume Editors

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr., retired principal of the Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, Massachusetts, also served as a special education teacher, director of special education, assistant principal, and adjunct professor of school law during his 34 years in education. He received his doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College. Osborne authored or coauthored numerous articles, monographs, and textbooks on many topics in special education and education law. A past president of the Education Law Association (ELA), he has presented at most ELA conferences since 1991. He writes a chapter titled “Students With Disabilities” for the Yearbook of Education Law. Osborne is on the editorial advisory committee of West's Education Law Reporter and is coeditor of the “Education Law Into Practice” section of that journal. In recognition of his contributions to the field of education law, Osborne was presented with the prestigious McGhehey Award by ELA in 2008.

    Charles J. Russo, JD, EdD, is the Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Allied Professions and adjunct professor in the School of Law at the University of Dayton. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 40 books; and has more than 800 publications. Before joining the University of Dayton as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration in 1996, Russo taught at the University of Kentucky and Fordham University. He earned a BA in classical civilization in 1972, a JD in 1983, and an EdD in educational administration and supervision in 1989, all from St. John's University in New York City. He also earned a master of divinity degree from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, in 1978.

    Gerald M. Cattaro is a professor of educational administration at Fordham University Graduate School of Education in New York City. Since 2005, he has served as chair of the Division of Educational Leadership Administration and Policy. For the past 20 years Cattaro has headed The Center for Catholic School Leadership & Faith-Based Education as executive director. He is active on three journal boards, reflecting his research interests in urban education, international education, and faith-based education. He serves on numerous national and international commissions of education. His writing appears in books, peeredreview journals, monographs, and chapters. Cattaro has worked as a practitioner in the role of teacher, chair, assistant principal, principal, and district-level administration in all levels of K–12 education.

    About the Contributors

    Letitia Basford is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Hamline University. Her teaching and research interests focus on immigrant and refugee students’ equitable access to education, with a focus on culturally relevant and reform-based pedagogy. She has a PhD from the University of Minnesota.

    Martha Bigelow is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Her research explores the schooling of immigrants and refugees, with a focus on adolescent newcomers. Her recent publications include Mogadishu on the Mississippi: Language, Racialized Identity and Education in a New Land, and Literacy and Second Language Oracy, with Elaine Tarone and Kit Hansen. She has a PhD from Georgetown University.

    Carolyn A. Brown, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University, teaches social theory, education politics and policy, and qualitative methods. She taught in a tribal school and has written several comprehensive literature reviews and policy briefs to inform state policy in Indian education.

    Aaron Cooley received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He teaches public policy at New England College. His work has been published in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Law and Politics Book Review, Educational Studies, and Journal of Education Policy.

    Bruce S. Cooper is a professor of school policy and leadership at Fordham University's Graduate School of Education. He is a noted scholar on private and religious education and is editor of the Private School Monitor. His interests include Catholic and Jewish schools, which he has analyzed for 40 years. One of his latest books is the coedited Handbook of Education Politics and Policy.

    Tamela J. Dixon is a cultural studies PhD student at Ohio University. Her primary scholarly research interests include race, class, and gender disparity in education and the media; at-risk youth, in particular those labeled sexual predators; and the correlation between crime and gender, race, and class.

    David Dolph is a former school principal and superintendent. He is currently a clinical faculty member in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Dayton.

    Suzanne E. Eckes is an associate professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Indiana University. She has published more than 70 articles and book chapters on school law, is an editor of the Principal's Legal Handbook, and is a member of the board of directors for the Education Law Association. She earned her master's degree in education from Harvard University and her law degree and PhD from University of Wisconsin–Madison.

    Mary I. Grilliot is currently a graduate assistant and PhD student at the University of Dayton. Her undergraduate degree is in accounting, and she holds an MBA with a finance concentration, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds more than 250 U.S. and international patents. Her research concentration is pedagogical practices that will encourage the development of creative and innovative skill sets.

    Jyllian Rosa Guerriero is a third-year law student at the University of Dayton School of Law. Prior to attending law school, she taught language arts and ethics at the high school level in Orlando, Florida.

    Alex S. Hall is a visiting professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Human Services at the University of Dayton. Her research focuses on the family and organizational structures that support development of human potential. Hall has held a number of academic leadership positions, including chair of a psychology department and coordinator of a graduate program in college student personnel. She also has served as associate editor of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.

    Eric S. Hall is the national director of education for AMIkids, a nonprofit organization. He is a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of South Florida, and his research interests are juvenile justice and alternative education. Hall has 20 years of teaching and administrative experience in nontraditional school models.

    Vivian Hopp Gordon is an associate professor at Loyola University Chicago, and has been an administrative law judge and hearing officer in Illinois for cases involving special education, teacher dismissals, and adult disability for 20 years. Her publications include numerous book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and peer-reviewed journal articles on varied aspects of school leadership and law.

    Timothy J. Ilg is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leader ship at the University of Dayton. In addition to his 13 years at the university, he had 30 years’ experience in public education, including 7 years as a school superintendent.

    William Jeynes, senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and a professor of education at California State University, Long Beach, graduated first in his class from Harvard University. He has spoken for the G. W. Bush and Obama administrations and several government departments. He was the architect of the economic and education stimulus package that the Korean parliament passed to recover from the 1997–1998 Asian economic crisis. He has more than 100 academic publications.

    Michael J. Jernigan is a math and physics teacher at Miami Valley Career Technology Center in Clayton, Ohio. He received his PhD in educational leadership from the University of Dayton. His research interests include collective bargaining; school law; teacher preparation; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Jernigan currently teaches high school juniors and seniors in a variety of math classes along with physics.

    Zorka Karanxha is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Her research focuses on educational leadership preparation, education law, and charter schools.

    Marc N. Kramer is the executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. Kramer holds a BA in Near East and Judaic studies from Brandeis University, an MSW from Columbia University, an MA from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and both a master's and a doctorate in education from Teachers College.

    Mark Littleton is a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Tarleton State University. He serves as coordinator of the educational leadership doctoral program, and routinely writes on the topic of sexual harassment in schools.

    James L. Mawdsley received his BA from Yale University, an MA in English from Kent State University, and a JD from Cleveland-Marshall School of Law. He currently is an English instructor at Stark State College. He is a member of the Education Law Association (ELA) and the Australia New Zealand Education Law Association (ANZELA). He has authored or coauthored numerous publications, including the “Employees” chapter of the Yearbook of Education Law.

    Ralph D. Mawdsley holds a JD from the University of Illinois and a PhD from the University of Minnesota. He has authored over 500 publications on the subject of education law. Mawdsley was president of the Education Law Association in 2001 and was awarded that organization's Marion A. McChehey Award in 2004. He has received two Fulbright Awards, one to South Africa and one to Australia.

    Lesley McCue is currently in the doctoral program at the University of Dayton and focusing on public school hiring practices. She began her teaching career in a K–8 charter school. She received her master's in educational leadership from Wright State University and teaches collaboratively in gifted education in a suburban public school.

    Janet Mulvey is an assistant professor at Pace University in New York City. Prior to teaching at the university level, she was a school principal in the Lakeland School District for 13 years. Mulvey received her PhD at Fordham, and two master's degrees at Long Island University. Her publications include Getting and Keeping New Teachers: Six Essential Steps from Recruitment to Retention, Blurring the Lines: Charter, Public and Religious Schools Come Together, and Faith Based Charter Schools.

    Dan Schroer is the superintendent for the Greene County Career Center in Xenia, Ohio. Previously, Schroer served as an agriculture education instructor at Oak Harbor and London high schools. He was also vice president at Butler Tech in Hamilton, Ohio. Schroer is a proponent for student-centered instruction and performance improvement.

    Carolyn Talbert-Johnson is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Dayton. Her research interests include issues of diversity, teacher dispositions, and school reform. Her research consistently focuses on access to quality education for students in K–12 settings.

    Rachel Trimble is a senior consultant in the Education, Human Development, and the Workforce program at American Institutes for Research. She is a technical assistance provider for the Great Lakes West and North Central Regional Comprehensive Centers. Much of her work during the past decade has been with state and district teams, providing expert consultation in continuous improvement.

    Paul J. Waller is the principal of Oakwood High School in Dayton, Ohio, and is working toward his PhD in educational leadership with the University of Dayton. He has been in education for 21 years and administration for 12 years. He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1991 with a BS in science education. He received his master's in education administration in 1999 from the University of Cincinnati.


    Education in the United States has grown significantly from its early beginnings in Colonial times. A function that was then considered to be primarily the responsibility of the family, education is now a major purpose of governments at all levels. At present there are approximately 97,000 public schools serving students in Grades K–12 in the 14,200 school systems in the United States. Those districts and the schools within them serve approximately 50 million students who are taught by over 3 million teachers. Public education has become a major source of expenditure at the federal, state, and local levels with over $519 billion being spent each year, an average of approximately $10,418 per student (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). When public schools were first formed, the responsibility for education was borne almost exclusively by local communities. However, during the past two centuries, state and federal governments have taken on more responsibility for the running and financing of public schools.

    Against this background, particularly since it is a time when there are many critics of the existing structures in public schools, the debates in this volume examine an array of practices that are designed to provide parents with alternative ways of having their children educated.

    History of American Education

    As noted, when settlers first arrived in America, education was the responsibility of the family and was undertaken mostly at home. In Colonial times, parents taught their children the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Most of the skills and knowledge children were taught was based on what was needed in an agrarian society. For the most part, boys were expected to master basic vocational skills while girls learned how to run households. Nevertheless, as the United States developed and expanded, formal schooling became a more common practice, but largely took place in nonpublic institutions accommodating only those who could afford to pay tuition. Still, the Boston Latin School, the first publicly supported secondary school in Colonial New England, was established in 1635.

    In the first attempt at providing a system of mandatory education, in 1642, Massachusetts enacted a law calling on “certain chosen men of each town to ascertain from time to time, if parents and masters were attending to their educational duties; if the children were being trained in learning and labor and other employments” (Baron, 1994, p. 19). However, since the law was ineffective, leaders abandoned it in five years because it did not mandate the creation of public schools.

    In 1647 the residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted what is popularly referred to as the “Ye old deluder Satan” act requiring towns of 50 households to provide instruction in reading and writing and towns of 100 households to establish grammar schools to prepare children for the universities (Commager, 1965, p. 29). A major purpose of the law, and thus the origin of its name, was to combat Satan's attempts to keep people ignorant of the scriptures so as to lead them to eternal damnation. Although this statute provided for the organization and maintenance of schools, attendance was not mandatory, but rather at parental discretion. For the most part students attended school for only a few weeks during the winter in poorly equipped schoolhouses taught by untrained teachers.

    Publically financed schools did not fully come into existence until the middle of the 19th century when social reformers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York succeeded in enacting legislation requiring school attendance and providing for tax-supported schools. Lawmakers in Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school law in 1852, and their New York counterparts followed suit a year later. Early schools, particularly those in rural areas, were financed partly by property taxes and partly by parental tuition. Students who lived in the cities had more options because many churches in urban areas operated their own schools. Still, through the early part of the 20th century, students in many places typically attended school for less than 100 days per year, well below the current standard of 180 class days, and did not go to school during summers because they were needed to work on the family farms. As the United States has moved from an agrarian-based economy to an information-based society, and as reflected in the debates on year-round schooling, educators have raised questions about whether American schools should change this approach.

    Education remained chiefly a local and state responsibility until the middle of the 20th century when Congress passed, and President Eisenhower signed into law, the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA), largely in response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), now reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. The purposes of these two significant federal statutes, respectively, were to improve instruction in commonly neglected subjects such as science, mathematics, and foreign languages and to expand educational opportunities to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

    The passage of the NDEA represented the first time the federal government directly intervened in public school policy and curriculum when Congress earmarked funds to support more intense instruction in science and mathematics. In enacting the ESEA, Congress provided funds for school districts with large numbers of children living in poverty. Among its provisions, the ESEA also established and funded Head Start, a program designed to help prepare low-income toddlers for school. Although these were not the first pieces of federal educational legislation, the NDEA and ESEA did set the stage for the federal government's increased involvement in public education. During this period of time many educators and lawmakers began to view public education as the means to individual success and the nation's prosperity.

    Regrettably, public schools in many parts of the nation were still segregated and not available to all children even in the mid-20th century. This situation began to change in the latter part of the century when public schools were essential in ensuring equal opportunity to all citizens. At first changes came about because of court orders, but further change was mandated by federal legislation. In the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court in 1954 characterized education as the most important function of the government. Chief Justice Warren, writing the majority opinion, noted that education was necessary for citizens to exercise their most basic civic responsibilities:

    In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the State has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available to all on equal terms. (Brown, 1954, p. 493)

    Twenty years later the Supreme Court ruled that failing to provide remedial English language instruction to non-English-speaking students violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Lau v. Nichols, 1974). The Court insisted that denying these students the chance to receive remedial instruction deprived them of meaningful opportunities to participate in public education. The Court stressed that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a Department of Health, Education, and Welfare regulation required recipients of federal financial aid to take affirmative steps to rectify language deficiencies.

    Federal involvement in public education reached new levels one year after Lau when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, currently known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This landmark legislation requires states to provide a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for all students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 as a condition of receiving federal funds. The IDEA calls for school personnel to develop individualized education programs for all students with disabilities who need special education and related services. The IDEA also gives the parents of students with disabilities unprecedented rights and creates an elaborate system for the resolution of disputes that may develop over the provision of special education services. The IDEA has not only opened the doors of public schools to children who had previously been excluded, but also provides a guarantee that the education they receive is meaningful.

    The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, an extensive report on the condition of American public schools, generated significant interest and controversy regarding the quality of public schools (National Commission for Excellence in Education). In a provocative statement in its second paragraph, the authors declared that “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” This report went on to reveal that students from other developed countries outperformed U.S. students on international measures. In the aftermath of this report's release, most states used the preceding quote as clarion call to implement educational reform laws that mandated more frequent testing of students in core academic subjects along with more rigorous state-mandated curricular frameworks.

    A Nation at Risk played a large part in congressional reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as an expansion of the ESEA, almost 20 years later. The major objectives of the NCLB are to improve students’ academic achievement; ensure that students are taught by highly qualified personnel; make school systems accountable for student achievement; require school systems to use effective, research-based teaching methods; and afford parents choices in educational programs (Raisch & Russo, 2006; Wenkart, 2003). The NCLB provides for accountability through annual testing and the use of proven instructional methods (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). The NCLB marks the federal government's most extensive participation in public education to date. Nevertheless, states have flexibility in how they set standards, choose tests, and spend federal dollars; but they must produce results.

    Legal Basis for School Choice

    The Supreme Court clearly established the right of parents to enroll their children in nonpublic schools in 1925 in its landmark decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The Pierce dispute began when the voters in Oregon approved a ballot initiative, and the legislature subsequently passed a law, requiring students between the ages of 8 and 16 who had not completed the eighth grade to attend the public schools. The only exception was for students who required special instruction.

    Two nonpublic schools, one Roman Catholic and the other a secular military academy, filed suit challenging the statute. In affirming an order enjoining enforcement of the statute, a unanimous Supreme Court first examined the right of the schools, as private businesses, to operate. The Court ruled that enforcement of the statute would seriously impair or even destroy the profitable nature of the schools and thus greatly diminish the value of their property. Noting that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from arbitrary state actions that impair life, liberty, and property interests, the Court found that the law was not reasonably related to the state's legitimate purpose of regulating schools. The Court recognized that nonpublic schools could provide an adequate education and acknowledged that the state had the authority to supervise their operations but emphasized that it could not exercise any greater regulation over them than it did over public schools.

    Much of the Supreme Court's rationale in Pierce focused on the right of nonpublic schools to operate. Even so, the Court in Pierce added that the statute was unconstitutional because it unreasonably interfered with the rights of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of their children. In oft-quoted language, the Court said that the “child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations” (p. 535). Thus, the Court affirmed that parents had the right to enroll their children in nonpublic schools to meet the state's compulsory attendance law.

    The Supreme Court reaffirmed parents’ rights to send their children to nonpublic schools two years later in Farrington v. Tokushige (1927). The Court agreed that public officials’ attempts to regulate foreign language schools violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The schools challenged a statute in Hawaii, which at that time was a territory and not a state, requiring schools conducted in languages other than English or Hawaiian to obtain permission and pay an annual fee to the education department. The statute also limited the schools’ hours of instruction, subjects offered, texts, and the ages and academic levels of students enrolling. To the extent that the statute burdened and limited instruction, the Court found that it infringed on the rights of parents who wanted their children to be taught in a foreign language.

    In another landmark decision, Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Supreme Court carved out an exception to compulsory attendance laws that has significant implications for school choice. The dispute in Yoder began when members of the Old Order Amish community requested that their children be excused from formal education after the eighth grade. The Amish made this request after members of their community were convicted of violating Wisconsin's compulsory attendance laws, which required all children to attend school until age 16. The parents maintained that it was unnecessary for their children to attend public high schools since they provided their young with adequate practical training in their own communities to prepare them for the Amish way of life and to be self-sufficient.

    The Supreme Court, relying on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, agreed that the traditional Amish way of life would have been endangered by requiring their compliance with the state's compulsory attendance statutes. In its analysis, the Court balanced the parents’ traditional interests in the religious upbringing of their children with the state's authority to regulate education. Observing that the Amish way of life was intertwined with their religion, the Court observed that any law infringing on their way of life also limited their free exercise of religion. In doing so, the Court placed great weight on the parents’ interests in preserving their religious beliefs, which could have been impacted by requiring their children to attend public high schools. However, the Court did make it clear that its ruling limited the exception to compulsory education only to Grades 9–12 and that the state could still regulate the agrarian education that the Amish provided.

    Alternative Schooling and School Choice

    As the above discussion points out, parents are not restricted to sending their children to public schools to satisfy compulsory attendance requirements. Today, parents have many alternatives including nonpublic religious schools, nonsectarian schools, and home schools. Many options exist even within public school systems such as charter schools, magnet schools, and career and technical schools. Further, many schools, both public and nonpublic, continue to experiment with alternatives such as year-round programming as well as single-sex schools and classes.

    In this volume many distinguished authors debate the pros and cons of both traditional and innovative educational arrangements. Although the essays in this volume cover a wide array of topics, the debates can be categorized into three main themes: issues involving charter schools, questions regarding various forms of nonpublic schooling, and topics related to schools incorporating specialized curricula or methodologies. Each of these is summarized as follows.

    Charter Schools

    The charter school movement, which traces its origins to Minnesota in 1991, has since gained considerable momentum. Currently, over 40 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have legislation allowing for the establishment of charter schools. It is important to note that charter schools are autonomous public schools essentially functioning as independent schools under special rules effectively freeing them from many of the statutes and regulations applying to traditional public schools. In exchange for being able to operate under alternative sets of rules generally allowing for greater flexibility, operators of charter schools agree to have their schools held accountable for the achievement of their students as set out in their operating charters. Although charter schools are exempt from many state rules with regard to staff and curricular issues, as public schools they do remain subject to federal and state antidiscrimination laws and constitutional provisions (Russo & Cattaro, 2009).

    In spite of its rapid expansion as a means of providing school choice, the charter school movement has been controversial. As noted in selected essays in this volume, charter schools reflect many aspects of the educational reform movement embraced by politicians and educators alike since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. In particular, charter schools allow for greater parental participation in the management of their children's schools, which many argue is essential to school improvement and the academic success of all students. In this respect, charter schools are more like nonpublic schools than public schools. Even so, it must be kept in mind that charter schools are public schools operating with public funds even though they function more like nonpublic schools in terms of managing their own budgets, establishing their curricula, and setting policy. Thus, charter schools provide a viable alternative to the public schools for many parents. Still, as reflected in the essays in this volume, many question whether the charter school movement has been successful.

    In the first chapter in this volume, the authors debate the central issue of whether charter schools are, in fact, a viable educational model. As with any innovation, examples of success and failure can be found. These authors examine quantifiable data in reaching differing conclusions about the overall success of charter schools, particularly in terms of their organizational structures and student achievement. The disparity of views shows that more research is needed in this area but, more important, that much more can be learned from the charter school movement.

    Other chapters in the volume debate the merits of so-called niche charter schools that have been formed for specific purposes or to attract identifiable student populations. Chapter 2 debates the development of ethnocentric charter schools. Ethnocentric charter schools can be defined as those designed around specialized curricula with the intent of attracting students from specific cultures or ethnic backgrounds. Since students attending ethnocentric charter schools have, in essence, chosen to self-segregate, these essays question their constitutionality. In addition to the constitutional questions, this chapter debates the various policy and legal issues involved with ethnocentric charter schools. As noted in the chapter overview, the Constitution may not be offended since the students and their parents have chosen to segregate themselves by attending specialized charter schools and there is no state action directing the segregation. Conversely, ethnocentric charter schools may be viewed as promoting state-sponsored segregation to the extent that they recruit specified populations.

    Chapter 3 focuses on the constitutionality of faith-based charter schools. Faith-based charter schools extol the values held by the founding religious community, even though their mission is not to proselytize or advance their own religious faith and beliefs. Although religious instruction is not part of their curricula, opponents of faith-based charter schools claim that their establishment violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state doctrine. Yet, proponents respond that insofar as the First Amendment also protects their right to practice religion without governmental interference, they should have the freedom to send their children to schools whose teachings are in line with their own religious values and convictions. As the essays in this chapter show, the debate over whether faith-based charter schools can survive constitutional scrutiny is destined to continue until it is resolved by judicial intervention.

    The final chapter on the theme of charter schools, Chapter 4, examines the question of whether culturally specific charter schools are an appropriate means of preserving Muslim identity. The essayists in this chapter look at issues such as whether these schools can support the foundation of Muslim culture and thereby provide a positive model for young Muslims. As with the debates on ethnocentric and faith-based charter schools, these debates raise constitutional issues because it may be impossible to separate the cultural values from the religious values of Muslim families.

    Nonpublic Schools

    As indicated earlier, nonpublic schools have operated in the United States since Colonial times. In fact, religiously affiliated nonpublic schools in America predate public schools and can trace their histories back to the 16th century when Catholic missionaries first established them in what is now Florida and Louisiana. Initially, most nonpublic schools were established in urban areas by religious groups. In the early days of the republic, the line between public and nonpublic schools was blurred with many being a hybrid of both. In the years following the Civil War, when the movement to develop free common schools took hold, nonpublic schools went out of favor and were often considered to be un-American.

    In response to religious prejudice, as a result of the Third Baltimore Council of 1884, a meeting of Catholic Bishops, parish schools were created to combat rampant anti-Catholic prejudice that permeated public schools in many parts of the United States. Following World War II, Catholic schools in particular experienced a period of unprecedented growth that peaked in the late 1960s. The years since the late 1960s witnessed the emergence of day schools established by evangelical Christians as well as members of Islamic and Jewish organizations. Home schools, which may be considered a form of nonpublic schooling, took hold in the 1980s and have experienced rapid growth since then. During this same time, enrollment in Catholic schools declined even as enrollment in other religious schools grew significantly (Russo & Cattaro, 2009). Finally, in the 1990s a new type of independent school, the proprietary or for-profit school, emerged.

    Today, as data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2006) indicate, there is considerable diversity among nonpublic schools in terms of orientation and affiliation. According to recent statistics, there are approximately 30,000 nonpublic schools that educate approximately 15% of the total U.S. student population. In terms of affiliation, 48% of nonpublic schools are categorized as non-Catholic religious, 28% Catholic, and 24% nonsectarian. Most nonpublic schools offer at least some elementary grades while 61% offer elementary grades only, 9% offer secondary only, and 30% offer both elementary and secondary. A vast majority (95%) of nonpublic schools are coeducational. Most nonpublic schools provide standard elementary and/or secondary programs of studies, but some offer specialized curricula such as Montessori, special emphasis, special education, early childhood, alternative, or vocational/technical programming.

    Although nonpublic schools are well rooted in the United States, many aspects of their existence are subject to ongoing debate. The essays in this volume address these issues. Chapter 5, the first chapter in the volume that speaks to nonpublic school topics, debates the benefits of proprietary or for-profit schools. On the one hand, proponents of such schools claim that they must produce in order to stay in business. Other commentators, on the other hand, claim that many proprietary schools have not met the objective of providing better results than the public schools through greater efficiencies and innovation. At the center of this debate is the question of whether for-profit nonpublic schools provide parents with a viable school choice alternative. The authors of the essays in this chapter sharply disagree over the answer to that question.

    Chapter 6 ponders the controversial subject of whether publically funded programs that give parents the option of where to send their children to school are an appropriate means of promoting school choice. In essence, this debate is over the feasibility of voucher and tax-credit/deduction programs. As with many other programs that may have the indirect consequence of supporting religious schools, constitutional questions arise. Even though some voucher programs have thus far survived judicial scrutiny, many opponents still argue that public funds should not be diverted to schools run by religious organizations. Conversely, proponents insist that parents who choose to send their children to religiously affiliated nonpublic schools should receive some form of assistance since they are paying taxes to support public schools without receiving any benefit.

    As stated above, the practice of homeschooling has recently experienced a renaissance. Chapter 7 looks at the question of whether home schools, which are considered to be a form of nonpublic education, should be subject to greater state regulation. Although homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, the amount and degree of oversight by state and local education agencies varies from one state to another. Since states typically have minimal regulations when it comes to matters such as teacher qualifications and curricular content in home schools, many educators argue that there should be much greater supervision to ensure that children who are homeschooled receive a quality education. On the other side of the argument, many home school proponents argue that the very states that failed to provide high-quality education for their children should not be allowed to regulate home schools. The authors in this chapter disagree over whether states should regulate home schools to the same extent that they regulate public and nonpublic schools.

    In Chapter 8, the authors debate the issue of whether the Jewish community should provide Jewish day schools as a means of preserving the Jewish identity of their children. These authors examine the pros and cons of Jewish day schools while exploring other alternatives for promoting Jewish identity. In the end, though, the authors differ as to whether day schools are necessary for preserving Jewish identity or whether that identity can be promoted and preserved by other means such as summer camps. The debate is not purely an academic discussion since the issue is very controversial in the Jewish community today and reflects the various perspectives on the purpose of Jewish education.

    The final chapter in the volume on the subject of nonpublic education, Chapter 9, asks whether nonpublic, nonsectarian schools enhance student achievement. Although a small minority of the nonpublic schools in the United States are nonsectarian, they provide an option for parents who want their children to have a nonpublic education but not one with a religious orientation. The debate in this chapter is particularly interesting since both authors cite research studies that support their differing points of view as to whether independent schools have, in fact, enhanced student achievement. Much of the disagreement centers on how data should be interpreted, particularly when it is adjusted to allow for the fact that nonpublic school populations often differ from their public counterparts.

    Specialized Schools

    The six remaining chapters in the volume can best be categorized as addressing issues involving schools offering specialized curricula or methodologies or those established for special purposes. The focus of many of the debates in these chapters is on whether the specialized schools are effective in terms of student achievement.

    Magnet schools emerged in the mid-20th century predominantly as one means of desegregating large urban school districts. By definition, magnet schools focus on particular disciplines or offer specialized curricula. For example, many magnet schools specialize in advanced studies in the sciences or the arts. Since many magnet schools have strict admission criteria and are highly competitive, they often attract students who are gifted and talented. As with selected other chapters in this volume, the debate in Chapter 10 centers on whether magnet schools enhance student achievement. As can be expected, the authors agree that there are both positive and negative aspects of magnet schools, but have widely differing opinions as to whether their overall effect on student achievement has been beneficial.

    Many parents and educators recently expressed renewed interest in single-sex schools and classes, which were prominent, particularly in religious schools, until late into the 20th century but have largely fallen out of favor. Proponents of this organizational arrangement contend that since boys and girls learn differently, it makes sense to educate each in environments that can cater to their needs in settings with fewer distractions. Opponents argue that segregation by gender is discriminatory and indicative of an era when students were expected to assume stereotypical gender roles. Since the research on the academic advantages of single-sex schools and classes is inconclusive, it is likely that the debate over whether such arrangements better meet the needs of elementary and secondary students, which is the focus of Chapter 11, will continue.

    The federal Head Start program, designed to improve the school readiness skills of preschool children from families with low incomes, has recently come under attack as many commentators question whether it is meeting its overriding goal of helping students achieve at higher levels once they enter school. At the same time, many educators are calling for the establishment of universal preschool programs for all toddlers. While few dispute that the initial benefits Head Start provides to children from low income families in terms of educational, social, health, and nutrition services are worthwhile, empirical evidence indicates that the early gains made by toddlers in the program may not translate into greater academic achievement in later years. The essayists in Chapter 12 examine the mixed evidence of Head Start's success and debate whether it is worth preserving. These authors analyze whether Head Start has helped close the achievement gap between students from families with low incomes and their more affluent peers.

    The face of vocational education has changed dramatically in recent years. In fact, even its name has been modified so that it is now more commonly referred to as career and technical education to reflect the changes in the skills students now need to enter the workforce. With a marked change in the skill sets needed for 21st-century careers, high schools face many new challenges, including the task of preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created. Given the fact that workers in the future will require a higher level of skills, Chapter 13 discusses the current value and need for vocational education and apprentice programs in today's high schools. Much of the debate centers on how high school programs should be organized to best prepare students for their future careers. These authors discuss whether career and technical education can best be provided in separate but specialized school environments or as part of comprehensive high schools.

    Many boards across the country have experimented with schools that are open year-round. Year-round schools offer scheduling alternatives that many educators believe are more conducive to student learning while making more efficient use of buildings and facilities. Students attending year-round schools still go to classes for the same number of days as their peers in schools operating under a traditional calendar. Advocates of year-round schools claim that this arrangement results in better student and faculty attendance and consequently greater academic achievement. Even so, setting up year-round schedules presents school officials with a new set of challenges and obstacles. Since the evidence that year-round schools produce greater student achievement is sparse, many educators are reluctant to experiment with this option. In the debate in Chapter 14, the essayists ponder the pros and cons of this alternative in terms of student outcomes. Insofar as there may also be nonacademic benefits to rearranging school calendars, it is likely that this debate will continue as policymakers continue to explore alternatives to traditional schedules as part of the overall school reform movement.

    Chapter 15, the final chapter on the theme of specialized schools, asks whether Native American schools are a viable means of enhancing student achievement. Federal regulations require the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to provide quality educational opportunities for Native Americans from early childhood through life. Educational offerings in these schools must be in harmony with each tribe's needs for cultural and economic well-being. Moreover, offerings must consider the wide diversity of Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages as distinctive cultural and governmental entities. In an attempt to meet this goal, the BIE operates or funds schools specifically for Native Americans. Yet, statistics show that a significant achievement gap exists between students attending Native American schools and their peers in traditional public school. Thus, this chapter debates whether Native American schools can improve the achievement of their students to close the existing achievement gap.


    This volume looks at many alternative educational arrangements that can provide students with options to traditional public schools. Although three major themes emerged in the essays in this volume, each chapter discusses whether various educational options are good, not only for students, but for education in general.

    As is made abundantly clear in these essays, many educators and policymakers alike are convinced that having these alternatives, and the competition they provide, will force traditional public schools to improve. At the crux of all the debates is the question of whether various educational arrangements result in better student achievement. While the question seems fairly straightforward, as the essays in this volume show, the answer is not always clear-cut.

    Allan G.Osborne, Jr.Principal (Retired), Snug Harbor Community School, Quincy, Massachusetts
    Charles J.RussoUniversity of Dayton
    Gerald M.CattaroFordham University
    Further Readings and Resources
    Baron, R. C. (1994). Soul of America: Documenting our past, Vol. I: 1492–1870. Golden, CO: North American Press.
    Commager, H. S. (1965). Documents of American history, Vol. I: To 1898 (
    7th ed.
    ). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
    National Center for Education Statistics. (2006). Characteristics of private schools in the United States: Results from the 2003–2004 private school universe survey. Retrieved from
    National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). Fast facts. Retrieved from
    National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A Nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
    Raisch, C. D., & Russo, C. J. (2006). The No Child Left Behind Act: Federal over reaching or necessary educational reform?Education Law Journal, 7(4), 255–265.
    Russo, C. J., & Cattaro, G. M. (2009). Faith-based charter schools: An idea whose time is unlikely to come. Religion and Education, 36(1), 72–93.
    Tayak, D. (1774). The one best system: A history of American urban education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    U.S. Department of Education. (2009). Great expectations: Holding ourselves and our schools accountable for results. Washington, DC: Author.
    Wenkart, R. D. (2003). The No Child Left Behind Act and Congress’ power to regulate under the Spending Clause. Education Law Reporter, 174, 589–597.
    Court Cases and Statutes

    Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

    Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq. (2006).

    Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (1975).

    Elementary and Secondary Education Act, P.L. 89–10, 20 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq. (1965).

    Farrington v. Tokushige, 273 U.S. 284 (1927).

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400–1491 (2006).

    Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).

    National Defense Education Act, P.L. 85–864 (1958).

    No Child Left Behind Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301–7941 (2006).

    Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).

    Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).

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