School Choice in American History

Authored by: John L. Rury

Handbook of Research on School Choice

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815381464
eBook ISBN: 9781351210447
Adobe ISBN:


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School choice may seem to be a new issue in American education, but it actually has a long history. During colonial times, a variety of educational options existed along with schools of various sorts, and a marketplace of education providers emerged in the cities. The 19th century witnessed the growth of modern school systems, including public secondary schools, with standards for term length, teacher qualifications, and other facets of institutional development. While public schools were intended to serve all Americans, certain constituents wanted alternatives. Some, like Catholics in the urban North, were able to establish their own institutions. Others, such as African Americans and other historically underprivileged minority groups, had much less success. Progressive schools served a generally elite constituency. In the postwar era, suburbanization created a lively market for educational alternatives to ailing urban school systems. But it was generally limited to Whites alone. A school choice movement emerged in the late 20th century, providing many options for families dissatisfied with public schools, but it has focused principally on urban settings with mixed results. Families in these settings seeking access to better schools still lack the option of considering the very best suburban systems.

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