IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


The development of private school choice in the US

26 April 2022, 12:30 pm–2:00 pm

Old school building in the USA. Spiroview Inc/Adobe Stock.

Join this event to hear Patrick J. Wolf discuss the development of over 60 government-led programmes that enhance parents' ability to choose a private elementary or secondary school for their child in the US.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Kiran Dhillon


Room W3.05
20 Bedford Way

Private school choice programmes were uncommon in the US until 2011, the first “Year of School Choice.” The second “Year of School Choice,” in 2021, rendered private school choice ubiquitous in many parts of the country.

Patrick will discuss how most early school choice initiatives were targeted to either low-income children in urban areas or to students with disabilities. Private school choice was a tool to address educational inequities. Experimentation was the watchword throughout the process of school choice policy development, with many initiatives starting as temporary pilot projects. New policy designs proliferated, and numerous rigorous evaluations of programmes took place.

The developmental features of school choice policy – responding to crises, policy incrementalism, an equity focus, and experimentation – resonate with the core features of the US system of government and the political culture that sustains it.The first of these programmes, established in Vermont in 1869 and Maine in 1873, were a matter of necessity. 

Many rural communities in those New England states were too sparsely populated to support the archetype comprehensive public schools then, and still, in fashion. Those communities, however, did have private schools.

The state governments of Vermont and Maine solved the problem of fulfilling the constitutional guarantee of a free public education by paying private schools to educate rural children. School choice was born. It grew incrementally, both in Maine and Vermont and throughout the country. The third school choice programme, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was not established until 1990. The fourth programme, in Cleveland, Ohio, was launched in 1995.

This event will be particularly useful for those interested in private education, international education and US schooling.

LLAKES Seminar series

This seminar is part of this series. These seminars explore connections between learning and the promotion of economic competitiveness and social cohesion.

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Covid-19 measures

To minimise Covid-related risks for in-person attendees at our events we will facilitate social distancing where possible. In-person attendees will be required to pre-register to gain entry to the event. We strongly encourage attendees to wear a mask while in our buildings. We ask that those registered for our events do not attend in-person if they are showing respiratory symptoms. Thank you for your co-operation.

About the Speaker

Dr Patrick J. Wolf

Distinguished Professor of Education at University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions

He is also visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution as well as, a principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project. He has led longitudinal evaluations of school voucher programmes in Washington, DC; Milwaukee, WI; and the state of Louisiana. His research projects have received 42 research grants and contracts totaling over $23 million. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited five books and over 200 journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and policy reports on private school choice, public charter schools, special education, civic values, public management, and campaign finance.