The Development of Private School Choice in the US

We regret to inform you that this seminar has unfortunately been cancelled. The speaker was unable to travel to the UK due to a new Covid related policy at his Institution.

Guest Speaker: Dr Patrick J. Wolf, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy, University of Arkansas

Date: Tuesday 26th April 2022
Time: 12:30-14:00
Location: Room W3.05, UCL Institute of Education, Bedford Way

The U.S. now has over 60 government programs that provide resources to parents in order to enhance their ability to choose a private elementary or secondary school for their child.

The first of these programs, established in Vermont in 1869 and Maine in 1873, were a matter of necessity. Many rural communities in those New England states were too sparsely populated to support the archetype comprehensive public schools then, and still, in fashion. Those communities, however, did have private schools. The state governments of Vermont and Maine solved the problem of fulfilling the constitutional guarantee of a free public education by paying private schools to educate rural children. School choice was born. It grew incrementally, both in Maine and Vermont and throughout the country. The third school choice program, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was not established until 1990. The fourth program, in Cleveland, Ohio, was launched in 1995.

Private school choice programs were uncommon in the U.S. until 2011, the first “Year of School Choice.” The second “Year of School Choice,” in 2021, rendered private school choice ubiquitous in many parts of the country.

Most early school choice initiatives were targeted to either low-income children in urban areas or to students with disabilities. Private school choice was a tool to address educational inequities. Experimentation was the watchword throughout the process of school choice policy development, with many initiatives starting as temporary pilot projects. New policy designs proliferated, and numerous rigorous evaluations of programs took place. The developmental features of school choice policy – responding to crises, policy incrementalism, an equity focus, and experimentation – resonate with the core features of the U.S. system of government and the political culture that sustains it.   

About the speaker:

Dr. Patrick J. Wolf is a Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and the 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions. He previously taught at Columbia University and Georgetown University.

Wolf has been a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution. As principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project, he has led longitudinal evaluations of school voucher programs in Washington, DC; Milwaukee, WI; and the state of Louisiana. Research projects led or co-led by Wolf have received 42 research grants and contracts totaling over $23 million.

He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited five books and over 200 journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and policy reports on private school choice, public charter schools, special education, civic values, public management, and campaign finance.

Most of his school choice research is at Education Week consistently ranks him among the most influential education policy academics. A 1987 graduate of the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), he received his Ph.D. in political science from the Government Department at Harvard University in 1995.