The most problematic part of Stokes’ argument, however, is the amorphousness of what she’s terming “market-based” reform. Whatever it is, such a reform project isn’t necessarily pro- or anti-school choice. Sure, in a certain way, school choice establishes a market for parents and students. But it’s not evident that all of the broader education reform arguments correspond to that distinction—it actually obscures more than it helps. In fact, there are major trends in education policy that suggest that the push for school choice is better understood as a grassroots movement—not a corporate campaign.
Backing Governor Chris Christie and Commissioner Chris Cerf’s unrelenting push for more “high-quality school options” in New Jersey, the Department of Education recently approved nine charter schools to open in September, bringing the total number of charter schools in New Jersey to 86. This move is part of a broader trend toward the marketization of education policy – the incorporation of market principles into the management and structure of public schools, as well as voucher programs to subsidize alternatives to public schools. These market principles include deregulation, competition, and the unqualified celebration of “choice,” all of which are embodied in the charter school movement. Despite claims of greater efficiency, innovativeness, and responsiveness, however, the growing rhetoric around choice needs to be more closely scrutinized before we wholeheartedly jump on the charter school bandwagon.
Market-based school reform is focused on the idea that by structuring schools like business enterprises, we can inject them with stereotypical private sector virtues like innovation and efficiency. According to this view, this is sorely needed because “traditional” public schools are supposedly ineffective. By removing barriers to entry for different types of educational organizations, market-based reformers believe we can incorporate some healthy competition into the state-run system and overcome drawbacks allegedly caused by the state’s monopoly control. This approach positions parents and students as consumers of education, free to choose which types of schools best meet their individual needs and preferences. The rhetoric of “choice” implies that marketization will enhance liberty as well as efficiency.
Various components of school reform as we know it do not neatly contain each other. They overlap messily. The "market-based" reform agenda Stokes clearly describes certainly exists, proudly and unabashedly. You can be pro-charter or pro-school choice without buying the whole corporate agenda, but that does not in turn mean the corporate agenda does not exist.