Stern is strongest when forcing school reformers to confront political realities and their implications. Several of his critics argue that school choice would work better if it were more robust. In a competitive market, companies that lose customers lose money too. To get enacted, however, voucher programs often have to hold failing public schools harmless. Losing students may be a blow to the self-esteem of teachers and administrators under these conditions, but it does not affect their bottom line. Stern concedes that a more free-market policy might indeed deliver better results. But he notes that it is entirely unrealistic to expect school-choice programs that are much more market-oriented than the ones that are now running.
Even under a much more robust school-choice policy, moreover, the vast majority of schoolkids will continue to attend the public system. So conservative education reformers have to have something to say to their parents. In my view, both choice and “instructionism” should be parts of that “something.”