Providing for the Priceless Student: Ideologies of Choice in an Emerging Educational Market
This article was originally published in American Journal of Education, 111(4): 523-547. © 2005 University of Chicago Press
The growing popularity of school choice is typically linked to the spread of neoliberal ideology. Identifying four components of this ideology, we examine the rationales of providers in an emerging private school market. Data come from interviews and site visits at 45 “third-sector” private schools in Toronto, Canada. We find that only one of the four components has a strong resonance among these educators. Few private school operators sharply criticize public schools, compete via quantitative performance indicators, or are strongly business oriented. However, they voice a philosophy of matching their personal talents to the needs of “unique” children. Overall, rather than being influenced by neoliberalism, these providers are more directly driven by personalized rationales that prize tailored education in specialized niches. We draw two conclusions from these findings. First, they demonstrate how ideologies of choice are shaped by their market setting, in this case, small proprietorship, in contrast to a corporate environment. Second, they highlight how providers can be motivated by new cultures of consumerism and intensive child rearing when working in highly uncertain conditions. We recommend that theories of choice recognize the range of educational markets and the specific motives of their providers.