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Inclusivity in Education: A Progressive Vision for School Choice

Discussion paper explores cross-partisan arguments for more diversified school system


14 May, 2024

OTTAWA, ON – There’s a strong progressive case in favour of school choice programs and policies, according to a new discussion paper by Dr. Ashley Berner, a Cardus senior fellow and the director of the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University. In The Progressive Case for Educational Pluralism, Dr. Berner explains that school systems in which the government funds and regulates, but does not exclusively deliver, public education – otherwise known as educational pluralism – can support politically progressive goals.

“Educational pluralism sits quite comfortably with progressive values, like justice and equity for marginalised students and families,” says Dr. Berner. “Left- and right-of-centre politicians have supported educational pluralism around the world. In fact, it’s the global norm, especially in liberal democracies.

The Progressive Case for Educational Pluralism explores several progressive arguments in favour of facilitating school choice, including:

All Families Should Be Able to Access Schools That Reflect Their Needs and Values

Many progressives have argued that it is fundamentally unjust when only wealthy families are able to access alternatives to the schools in their the residentially zoned neighbourhood school.

“Equalizing access to distinctive schools would, for progressives, begin to rectify the inequalities inherent across different families, neighbourhoods, and social networks,” says Dr. Berner.

Education Cannot Be Neutral with Respect to Values—So a Variety of School Types Should Be Funded

Part of living in and celebrating a diverse liberal democracy means making room for difference, even profound differences.

“Pluralism entails funding schools we wouldn’t necessarily send our own children to,” says Dr. Berner. “It also means honouring individual schools in every sector (private, district, charter, home) that demonstrably serve young people’s academic, civic, emotional and, if applicable, spiritual, wellbeing.”

Education Implicates All of Us—So We Must Ensure Quality

Progressives have also made the case that government funding for independent schools requires certain standards of teaching and learning. Berner cites, for instance, progressive arguments for requiring a rigorous, liberal arts curriculum.

“It matters to me that your child knows how to cast a vote; it matters to you that my child writes well enough to support herself; it matters to democratic sustainability that all children learn important domains of history, science, and literature,” says Dr. Berner. “Because the consequences of education affect all of us for better or for worse, we have to ensure robust academic quality for all students, particularly those from marginalised communities.”

The Progressive Case for Educational Pluralism is a Cardus Perspectives paper – a contribution to the discussion about important issues in society. Perspectives are the work of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Cardus or of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy as organizations. This paper is freely available on the Cardus website.


Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications

Cardus – Imagination toward a thriving society
Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society’s institutions can work together for the common good.