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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Twenty: John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990)


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John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990)

John F. Covaleskie

I. Synopsis

In Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, John Chubb and Terry Moe1 put forth a simple and very direct thesis: Our system of public schools is a failure for reasons that make reform impossible. The system of public schooling can only be replaced by a marketplace of mostly private schools and those public schools fit enough to compete (but liberated from democratic governance). The thesis is twofold: in the first place, public schools, as institutions of democratic politics, are intrinsically unreformable; second, a market in which individuals choose schools for their children is the only means of reforming education in the United States.

The reason the public system cannot be reformed but must be replaced is that public schools are governed democratically, an approach that is inherently unstable and subject to change and uncertainty. This makes it difficult to do long-term planning to make schools better. Government schools, according to Chubb and Moe, are failures precisely because they are governed democratically, and democracy is an inefficient and unstable way to make decisions. Thus, they argue that reform efforts have left “the institutions of educational governance unchanged…. [T]hese institutions are more than simply the democratic means by which policy solutions are formulated and administered. They are also the fundamental causes of the very problems they are...

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