Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Private School and School Choice

Main content start

Parents are given rights to make certain choices about how to rear their children. Many people believe this should include an entitlement to choose how and where their children are educated. Many parents choose to pay tuition to have their children educated privately, sometimes for religious reasons. However, purchasing elite private schooling or religious schooling can bring about greater inequality of opportunity, especially if tuition is out of reach for many families. Students at public schools may suffer from the absence of middle-class aspirational children, as a result of peer-group effects. Smaller class sizes, better paid teachers, and extra-curricular opportunities enable private school students to disproportionately out-perform their public school counter-parts in pursuit of elite college education and well-paid work. Since employment opportunities and college places are scarce goods, which are closely linked to other benefits in health, wealth and well-being, these inequalities are highly consequential.

Debates about private school and school choice concern the importance of equality of opportunity relative to parental authority. An important question in this debate is, do parents have a right to choose an education for their child that makes other children worse off? Religious schooling may also be thought to be in conflict with a child’s autonomy and civic education. Home schooling may have both of these effects. Further debates concern the place of school choice, and particularly school vouchers, in a satisfactory remedy of educational inequality. Some argue that giving vouchers to the parents of disadvantaged children so that they can choose a private school will help raise standards all round and equalize opportunity.


Anderson, Elizabeth. “Rethinking Equality Of Opportunity: Comment On Adam Swift’s How Not To Be A Hypocrite”. Theory And Research In Education, Theory and Research in Education, 2, no. 2 (2004): 99-110.

Notes: This paper argues against Adam Swift’s critique of private schools by claiming that such schools are efficient, that meritocratic conceptions of equality of opportunity are undesirable in K-12 education and the paper develops the idea of solidarity, found in Swift, to apply to the context of democratic citizenship education.

Brighouse, Harry, and Adam Swift. “Educational Equality Versus Educational Adequacy: A Critique Of Anderson And Satz”. Journal Of Applied Philosophy, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 26, no. 2 (2009): 117-128.

Notes: This paper defends a conception of equality of opportunity in education against adequacy in education by appealing to some key advantages of equality and education as a positional good and also argues that inequalities in opportunity amongst those who have an adequate education can therefore be disturbing.

Brighouse, Harry, and Adam Swift. “Legitimate Parental Partiality”. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 37, no. 1 (2009): 43-80.

Notes: This paper argues that the scope of legitimate parental partiality is determined by the goods that justify the family in the first place. The paper sets out an account of familial relationship goods and argues that these have priority over equality of opportunity, but only partial acts between parents and children that are necessary to realize these goods are legitimate.

Brighouse, Harry, and Adam Swift. “Parents’ Rights And The Value Of The Family”. Ethics, Ethics, 117, no. 1 (2006): 80-108.

Notes: This paper argues that parents have fundamental rights over their children grounded in the interest in parenting.

Brighouse, Harry. School Choice And Social Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Notes: The book addresses the issue of whether parents should be permitted to choose their child’s school and if so, how and why should they be permitted to do so. The book engages with various arguments across the political spectrum for school choice and provides a defense of a liberal theory of justice that focuses on individual autonomy and uses this to assess particular school choice proposals.

Brighouse, Harry. “What's Wrong With Privatizing Schools?”. Journal Of Philosophy Of Education, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 38, no. 4 (2004): 617-631.

Notes: The paper argues that full privatization of schools would worsen the position of the least advantaged and would therefore be unjust.

Brighouse, Harry, and Adam Swift. “Putting Educational Equality In Its Place”. Education Finance And Policy, Education Finance and Policy, 3, no. 4 (2008): 444-466.

Notes: The paper defends a meritocratic conception of equality of opportunity against some common objections and argues that we should not pursue equality at the cost of the value of the family and economic growth if doing so also diminishes the prospects of the least advantaged.

Clayton, Matthew, and David Stevens. “School Choice And The Burdens Of Justice”. Theory And Research In Education, Theory and Research in Education, 2, no. 2 (2004): 111-126.

Notes: This paper argues that the obligations that we have to the worse off in non-ideal conditions may be more stringent than the obligations we have under ideal circumstances and this curtails the degree of parental partiality that is legitimate with respect to school choice.

Dwyer, James G. Vouchers Within Reason: A Child-Centered Approach To Education Reform. Cornell University Press, 2001.

Notes: This book defends an approach to educational reform that puts children’s interests, not adult’s, at its center and argues for a restrictive voucher-scheme for schools, which provides for each child’s interests in both state oversight of their education and a fair share of public funding for their education.

Finn, Chester E, Bruno V Manno, and Gregg Vanourek. Charter Schools In Action: Renewing Public Education. Princeton University Press, 2001.

Notes: This book provides a detailed empirical analysis of the rise of charter schools and their ability to improve public education.

Friedman, Milton, and Rose Friedman. Free To Choose: A Personal Statement. Edited by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990.

Notes: This essay (chapter 6) sets out a defense of the idea that by giving subsidies in the form of vouchers to consumers of education, parents, society could better meet the requirement of providing education to children and would also increase competition and choice.

Reich, Rob. “Common Schooling And Educational Choice As A Response To Pluralism”. In School Choice Policies And Outcomes: Philosophical And Empirical Perspectives On Limits To Choice In Liberal Democracies. School Choice Policies And Outcomes: Philosophical And Empirical Perspectives On Limits To Choice In Liberal Democracies. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008.

Notes: The paper addresses debates about the co-existence of common schooling and choice by appealing to the normative significance of pluralism and argues for a reconciliation.

Scott, Janelle, ed. School Choice And Diversity: What The Evidence Says. Edited by Janelle Scott. Teachers College Press, 2005.

Notes: This book contains a number of essays that examine many aspects of school choice policies, including issues around diversity, integration and charter schools.

Swift, Adam. How Not To Be A Hypocrite: School Choice For The Morally Perplexed Parent. Routledge, 2003.

Notes: The book examines the many values related to educational choice, including equality of opportunity, the value of education, parental partiality, and parents’ rights and brings these to bear upon real world policies and decisions about school choice.