Freedom of Choice
Vouchers in American Education
by Jim Carl
September 2011, 264pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-39327-3
$53, £40, 46€, A72
eBook Available: 978-0-313-39328-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

As the most radical form of “school choice,” vouchers remain controversial in education today. The U.S. Congress, for example, voted to phase out vouchers in Washington, D.C., schools, much to the consternation of participating parents and conservative observers. What are vouchers really about—academic achievement or political and social agendas?

This book reveals that, far from being the result of a groundswell of support for parental choice in American education, the origins of school vouchers are seated in identity politics, religious schooling, and educational entrepreneurship.

Inserting much-needed historical context into the voucher debates, Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education treats school vouchers as a series of social movements set within the context of evolving American conservatism. The study ranges from the use of tuition grants in the 1950s and early 1960s in the interest of fostering segregation to the wider acceptance of vouchers in the 1990s as a means of counteracting real and perceived shortcomings of urban public schools.

The rise of school vouchers, author Jim Carl suggests, is best explained as a mechanism championed by four distinct groups—white supremacists in the South, supporters of parochial school in the North, minority advocates of community schools in the nation’s big cities, and political conservatives of both major parties. Though freedom was the rallying cry, this book shows that voucher supporters had more specific goals: continued racial segregation of public education, tax support for parochial schools, aid to urban community schools, and opening up the public school sector to educational entrepreneurs.


  • Case studies describe, explain, and compare the origins of school vouchers in four states: Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin
  • Interviews with key participants in the debates over school vouchers, including Christopher Jencks and the late Milton Friedman
  • Eight tables and graphs detail demographic and educational changes in New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Cleveland
  • Four maps show the locations of voucher schools and programs in New Orleans, New Hampshire, Milwaukee, and Cleveland
  • Photographs of student and parent supporters of school vouchers
  • A bibliography of primary and secondary sources in urban history, history of education, and educational policy studies
Jim Carl,PhD, is associate professor of social foundations of education and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Foundations at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH. Carl's recent articles appear in the American Journal of Education, Harvard Educational Review, and Social Science History.


“In this book, Jim Carl provides a remarkable historical account of the origins of the school voucher movement in the United States. He shows the variety of causes that have found expression in the voucher mechanism, from preserving segregation in the 1950s to promoting educational opportunity in the 2000s. But at the same time, he makes a convincing argument that at its core vouchers have been floating on the rising tide of conservatism, with its concerns about free markets, religious separatism, and consumer choice, and with its disdain for public schooling.”—David F. Labaree, Professor of Education, Stanford University, author of Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling.

"Jim Carl illuminates the historic arc of this controversial idea from segregationist ploy to the imagined salvation of urban schools. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, this book is essential reading for anyone concerned with contemporary education policy debates and the recent history of school reform in the United States." —John L. Rury, Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History, University of Kansas
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