Editor’s note: Shortly before the start of National School Choice Week, which runs through this weekend, a group of school choice researchers, advocates and practitioners met in Fort Lauderdale for the Fourth International Conference on School Choice and Reform. We provided some coverage of the proceedings, but didn’t really capture the global scope of the event. As Americans celebrate school choice, Judith S. Stein, known as “Grandma Choice” and one of the organizers of the conference, writes that the event should serve as a reminder that school choice is practiced, studied and debated all over the world.
Rodrigo Sanchez Queiroz e Melo is a teacher at a private school in Portugal. His organization is the (get ready) Associacao de Estabelecimentos de Ensino Particular e Cooperativo (an organization for cooperation among private schools). Every year he packs his “school choice scarf”—Portugal-style — and heads across the ocean to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for an event which happens a week or so before the more-famous National School Choice Week.
Liesbeth Van Welie, a former schools inspector from the Netherlands, comes to Florida to listen to the presenters after serving as an astute reviewer of the research proposals which come in every year from all over the world. Zdenko Kodelja, of an Educational Research Institute in Slovenia, prepares to speak on “the right to a freely chosen education.” His country, which a generation ago was under Soviet domination, is now offering the freedom of education to its children.
The annual International Conference on School Choice and Reform presents policy studies and intellectual heft that can inform school choice advocacy: How is it working? How could it work better? The event’s global perspective belies the idea that school choice is a political football which has more to do with politics than with students and schools.
Attendees from Estonia, Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, South Africa, Canada and the United States come each year to present their findings on school choice. These countries and many others have school choice programs where the government funds school choice for parents and children—some through tax credits, some through direct public funding, and in many countries, also supporting religious schools.