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
- 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.
- Educational outcomes affect all of us; therefore, democracies should ensure that all schools meet high academic standards.
- Education belongs within civil society; neither the government nor individuals should have absolute control.
- All families should have access to schools that fit their children’s needs.
- 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.
- Ashley Berner writes about the current education model in the United States and the opportunity for a more pluralistic system: Op-Ed: What if we replaced public school districts with less rigid systems?
- Successful school systems in democracies worldwide point to three essential levers to improve students’ life outcomes: Introducing Pluralism to Public Schooling
- Podcast: Why education savings accounts won’t bring educational pluralism, with Ashley Berner
- Director Ashley Berner joins Hopkins At Home to discuss different education models and what we can learn from them: Educational Pluralism: A New Conversation
- Director Ashley Berner presents Why “School Choice” is a Strange Term: America’s Schools in International Context, a talk focused on how the U.S. is different from other democratic school systems, why ours developed as it did, and what have been the consequences for American students:
- In the R Street case study Does Educational Pluralism Build Civil Society? Ashley Berner discusses Indianapolis’ pluralistic school structure and how it has led to new opportunities for greater community engagement and investment in the next generation:
- Report: For more than a century, public education in the U.S. has been defined as schools that are funded, regulated, and exclusively delivered by government. The past 25 years have brought some diversified forms of delivery through charter schools and various private-school scholarship mechanisms. Nevertheless, most discussions and debates over school reforms take place within the existing paradigm: only district schools are considered truly public, and all alternative models (whether charters, tax credits, or vouchers), must justify themselves on the basis of superior test scores: The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S.
- Ashley Berner’s presentation at TEDxWilmingtonED: No One Way to School: Education Pluralism and Why it Matters. *Photography by Alessandra Nicole: “No One Way to School: Educational Pluralism and Why it Matters.”
- Webinar: Ashley Rogers Berner, Charles Glenn (professor emeritus, education leadership and policy studies, Boston University), and Neal McCluskey (director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute) discuss whether school choice could defuse conflicts over the content of education and allow diverse people to choose what they think is best, rather than having to fight for control of a single system: Peace through School Choice: Examining the Evidence
- Why should taxpayers support the education of other people’s children? In democracies, the answer is because these children’s lives (including workforce participation and social wellbeing) and political involvement (understanding democratic institutions, analyzing legislation, and voting) shape ours: Education for the Common Good
- Education debates in the United States often occur between two poles. On the one hand, we have the libertarian impulse, which valorizes free markets, competition, and parental choice; on the other, we find a visceral defense of the district school: To improve education in America, look beyond the traditional school model