Educational pluralism is a structure for public education in which the government funds and regulates a wide range of schools equally. All types of schools – Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, secular, Montessori, Waldorf, and others – are held to the same set of high academic standards regardless of their model.

Most democratic peers of the United States run educationally plural systems. In fact, the United States is an outlier in this regard. We still run the traditional district school model, which has been the norm in the U.S. since the late 19th century, while alternative models, such as charters and private-school scholarship programs, spark unnecessary controversy and too often embittered competition between entire education sectors. 

At the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, we view educational pluralism as a middle path between the libertarian approach that advocates unfettered choice and the state-oriented approach. 

Core Beliefs of Educational Pluralism

  1. Education simply cannot be neutral with respect to values; therefore, democracies should fund a variety of schools that differ from one another in meaningful ways.
  2. Educational outcomes affect all of us; therefore, democracies should ensure that all schools meet high academic standards.
  3. Education belongs within civil society; neither the government nor individuals should have absolute control.
  4. All families should have access to schools that fit their children’s needs.
  5. When democracies incentivize strong, distinctive school cultures and intellectually challenging curricula, all kids benefit.

Educational Pluralism Database

IEP is proud to host the Educational Pluralism Database in partnership with the European Association for Education Law and Policy, and the Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education project. The database provides reports that examine school systems in more than 60 countries through the lens of educational pluralism.

Learn More about Educational Pluralism

  • In her book, Pluralism and America Education: No One Way to School, Ashley Berner argues that the uniform structure of public education is a key factor in the failure of America’s schools to fulfill the intellectual, civic, and moral aims for which they were created. She calls for a powerful and novel alternative that draws upon the pluralistic, civil-society model that benefits public school systems across the globe. 

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