Getting lost in the complexities of education reform is easy, so I use the following analogy to help me understand the daily ebb and flow of school reform issues.
School choice programs are refugee camps comprised of people who have left East Germany.
The promised land (i.e., a better public education system) is West Germany.
The promised land becomes attainable when the number of families in refugee camps becomes large enough to make a well-regulated, market-driven public education system viable.
I equate school districts with East Germany because they are command-and-control, politically run monopolies where teachers and parents have little decision-making power. School districts employ legal barriers (i.e., the Berlin Wall) to prevent families from leaving, although affluent families have always been able to buy their way out. Increasingly, lower-income families are accessing resources (i.e., tax credit scholarships and vouchers) which allow them to get out also.
While this analogy is not precise, it does help me understand the motivations, tensions and contradictions that permeate the current education reform movement. Today we have two parallel reform movements. One is attempting to improve productivity within East Germany, while the second is trying to knock down the Berlin Wall and turn all of public education into West Germany.