The blogosphere is atwitter with news that some conservatives are turning away from school choice over fears that vouchers might go to Muslim schools. Charles Glenn recently wrote a post useful in thinking through these issues:
My paper confronted head-on the widespread fear, among European elites, of strongly-held religious views, and argued that in fact “communities of conviction” make an essential contribution to the health of civil society. I cited research on faith-based schools in the United States to show they have by no means had a divisive effect or made their students unfit for active and positive citizenship.
While we do not yet have similar in-depth studies of the effects of Islamic schools in The Netherlands (where about 50 are publicly-funded and regulated), the investigations that have been carried out have found that, while sometimes gravely lacking in educational quality compared with other schools, they are not subversive of participation in Dutch society. In fact, there is every reason to believe that immigrant parents, and especially those of the second generation who are now parents themselves, seek an education for their children that will prepare them for success in Dutch society while solidly-grounded in a religious tradition – or, having explored that tradition, to reject it.
This led to my four policy recommendations based on experience in a number of countries with seeking to achieve high-quality education for pupils of immigrant and ethnic-minority origin:
• Reach out to their parents with accurate information, organized around their primary concerns, about the educational choices available to their children. This information should be communicated not only in writing and through the media, but by well-trained and impartial members of the target groups, in the appropriate languages.
• Hold schools accountable for measurable results, broadly conceived (that is, for example, not just results on a single test), while leaving them broad latitude to achieve those results through any appropriate methods and on the basis of any religious or educational perspective that has been clearly presented to parents before their choice of the school.
• Allow schools broad discretion in selecting staff on the basis of the declared mission of the school, and of terminating staff who fail to support that mission effectively.
• Intervene vigorously and effectively if there is evidence that a school is failing to achieve adequate results, or is harming pupils through the methods employed. The principle should be clear: there is no right to operate an inadequate school, even if parents can be persuaded to select it.
More here. In the paper Glenn mentions, he offers some provocative evidence suggesting that religious schools actually can foster integration and civic values.