Greg Anrig writes:
An Idea Whose Time Has Gone: The conservative infatuation with vouchers did contribute to one genuine accomplishment. The past thirty years have been a period of enormous innovation in American education.... In addition to charter schools, all kinds of strategies have taken root: public school choice, new approaches to standards and accountability, magnet schools, and open enrollment plans that allow low-income city kids to attend suburban public schools and participate in various curriculum-based experiments. To the extent that the threat of vouchers represented a "nuclear option" that educators would do anything to avoid, the voucher movement helped to prompt broader but less drastic reforms that offer parents and students greater educational choices.
Along the way, some success stories have emerged... strategies that combine school choice initiatives like magnet and charter schools with policies to integrate poor and middle-class students. Wake County, North Carolina, for instance, introduced a policy in 2000 mandating that no school could have more than 40 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Because this program makes use of choice and incentives like magnet schools to integrate poor and middle-class kids, it avoids the political hazards of compulsory busing. So far, the results have been impressive. In 2006, 60.5 percent of low-income students in Wake County passed the high school End of Course exams, compared to 43 percent of low-income students in a nearby county of a comparable size.
Of course, the inherent limit to this idea is that many urban school districts are so uniformly poor that there are few, if any, middle-class communities with schools that low-income kids can attend. One way to get around this problem would be to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to give students in failing schools the ability to attend a school outside their own district.... [V]oucher proponents... motivated by a desire to help disadvantaged kids, and not merely an ideological urge to weaken public institutions... [should put] their prodigious energies and money behind choice programs like these that actually work.