Photo of an empty school hallway with lockers open.
Photo by Paul Sableman, Flickr CC

In Hindsight 2070, Vox asked 15 experts, “What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?” In her reflections, Adia Harvey Wingfield describes how our changing society will come to regret the move to school choice because we need public education now more than ever.

Wingfield reminds us that the current system of public education (which encourages and subsidizes school choice) is in part a result of backlash against public school integration. Private schools grew in popularity as white families left newly integrated public institutions after Brown vs. Board of Education. And today the network of charter, private, and magnet schools encourages parents to continuously search to find the “best” school for their child. Wingfield writes,

“This narrow, individualized focus maintains the racial and economic disparities that desegregation was supposed to eradicate. School is viewed less as a public good and more and more as something we buy access to, and thus driven by income and wealth.”

Wingfield argues that to address inequality in our current school choice regime, we must reinvest in public schooling. School choice has always meant maintaining racial and class inequality, and in an era with increased concern about the future, school choice policies may only deepen these divides between the “haves” and the “have nots.” And changing demographics mean that we are leaving a bigger and bigger portion of our nation’s children behind. According to Wingfield,

“We’ll need to recognize that investing in the public sector (including but not limited to schools) helps a wide segment of Americans. If not, we’ll look back and realize that sacrificing the public sector on the altar of “school choice” and individualism has left us unprepared for an increasingly multiracial society.”