Book Reviews

The School Choice Wars

by John Merrifield

Reviewed by Leonard H. Elovitz
Assistant Professor of Instruction and Educational Leadership, Kean University, Union, N.J.

School choice could significantly change the face of American education. However, in The School Choice Wars, John Merrifield, a fellow at the Educational Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and economics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, tells us this will occur only if parental choice is offered without the restrictions that accompany the experiments currently in place.

Merrifield believes the current model of education constitutes a virtual government monopoly that stifles the reforms needed to improve schooling for all children because the lack of competition results in higher costs and increased inefficiencies. The only hope, he contends, is for education to become a competitive industry where schools will either improve to compete for students or perish.

For this to occur, there would have to be no significant barriers for education producers and parents would be free to move without significant costs. In other words, there would be no difference in government funding to support the public and private schools. In addition, the number of parents willing to transfer their children must be large enough to have an effect on the school’s ability to remain financially viable.

In Merrifield’s model, schools are free to charge what they wish for tuition. He reasons this will increase the number of school providers to a point where services become more available, causing costs to drop and forcing inefficient providers out of business. Lastly, schools must be free of unnecessary regulations so they can specialize to attract and better serve the needs and desires of students and their families.

Merrifield takes a dim view of public education, stating that even the best American schools are not good enough. He attacks the “fallacies” often used to oppose school choice, such as the claim parents do not have the capacity to make good educational choices for their children or the claim that only the children of the poor need help.

The book, citing up-to-date research, would be a valuable resource to administrators regardless of where they stand on the issue of school choice.

(The School Choice Wars by John Merrifield, Scarecrow Press, 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, MD 20706, 2001, 219 pp. with index, $45 hardcover)