Moral and Normative Aspects of School Choice Conference

Conference on the Moral and Normative Aspects of School Choice

Date: March 9-10, 2001
Location: Fulton 511

With support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Boisi Center held a major national conference on the normative and philosophical issues inherent in America's debates over school choice. Abstracts of all the papers are available on-line below; publications of all papers are available in School Choice: The Moral Debate from Princeton University Press, 2003. The Boston College Magazine has an online story detailing the conference's participants and discussions entitled "Uncommon Ground."

Panels and Panelists:

Friday, March 9th, 2001

School Choice and Equality
Conference Abstracts
Glenn Loury, Boston University
Stephen Macedo, Princeton University
Joseph Viteritti, New York University
Discussant: Paul Weithman, University of Notre Dame

School Choice and Pluralism
Conference Abstracts
Amy Gutmann, Princeton University
Meira Levinson, Boston Public Schools, and Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law
Nancy Rosenblum, Harvard University
Discussant: David Hollenbach, S.J., Boston College

Saturday, March 10th, 2001

School Choice and the Ecology of Institutions
Conference Abstracts
Charles Glenn, Boston University
Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
Joseph O'Keefe, S.J., Boston College
Discussant: John McGreevy, University of Notre Dame

School Choice and Constitutional Law
Conference Abstracts
Martha Minow, Harvard Law School
Michael Perry, Wake Forest School of Law
Rosemary Salomone, St. John's University School of Law
Discussant: John Garvey, Boston College Law School

Event Recap

On March 9 and 10, the Boisi Center held its first conference as over one hundred scholars, activists, and educators from around the country joined together to address the moral and normative aspects of school choice. With support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Boisi Center invited twelve speakers and four discussants to examine and discuss the use of parental choice for educational reform and its relation to such topics as pluralism, equality, the ecology of institutions, and American constitutional law. Papers given on the first day of the conference focused on the various philosophical arguments that have been made both for and against the introduction of market forces into education.

During the panel on pluralism and school choice chaired by David Hollenbach, Amy Gutmann, Meira and Sanford Levinson, and Nancy Rosenblum examined the interrelationship of the rights of children, parents and the state, the normative importance of different kinds of pluralism (such as religious or ethnic diversity), and the plausibility of the link between choice and pluralism. Stephen Macedo and Joseph Viteritti, at the day's second panel on equality and choice, probed the meaning and ramifications of the concept of equity, especially in light of the current trend amongst reformers to target disadvantaged urban children whose parents lack the resources to make choice a meaningful option.

The second day's panels bridged the gap between normative and empirical analyses, first in the case of examining the likely institutional ramifications of school choice and secondly, in providing legal analysis of constitutional precedent in the hope of discovering where the US Supreme Court shall go next. Drawing upon historical and comparative social science research, Charles Glenn and Richard Mouw examined how the option of school choice had been implemented in Europe during the last century, while Joseph O'Keefe provided a thumbnail sketch of the current state of American Catholic parochial education and the institutional challenges it faces in the new millennium. On a panel on choice and law chaired by John Garvey, legal scholars Martha Minow, Rosemary Salomone, and Michael Perry generally agreed that current constitutional precedent was in need of clarification by the Court, although there was less general agreement on the direction such a landmark decision would take.

Notwithstanding a late winter Nor'easter during the weekend, the conference was quite an intellectual success and an excellent opportunity to introduce the Boisi Center during its inaugural year of activities. As Center Director Alan Wolfe noted at the close of the conference, the preceding two days of debate and discussion both promoted an interdisciplinary meeting of minds from diverse religious and methodological backgrounds and intellectually challenged major scholars to address serious, contemporary but largely neglected philosophical problems.

In order to share the conference's philosophical insights with the larger academic world, a volume containing all the delivered papers is expected to be published shortly. Additionally, the Boisi Center will be constructing an on-line resource web site on school choice containing both abstracts of all the conference papers and regularly updated links to current research on the topic.