Finding a Golden Mean in Education Policy: Centering Religious and Public Schools

Author(s): Bruce Cooper, Rose Byron McSween, and Peter Murphy

Source: Cooper, Bruce, Rose Byron McSween, and Peter Murphy. 2012. “Finding a Golden Mean in Education Policy: Centering Religious and Public Schools.” Peabody Journal of Education 87:368-382.


With the expansion of school choice legislation in the U.S., a new middle ground between religious and public schools is emerging according to a recent article. While at times controversial, this middle ground and the cooperation of multiple sectors has the potential to improve schools and place the needs of children first in policies and practices concerning education.

Bringing the Sectors Closer Together
Cooper and colleagues suggest that public schools are experiencing more privatization with the expansion of charter schools, and private schools are receiving more public assistance through school choice legislation offering vouchers and tax credits, in addition to already established Title I and special education funding. They see these changes as bringing the sectors closer together with the opportunity to create schools that are diverse and responsive, leading to more competitive types of education that better serve the needs of children.

Potential to Create New and Innovative Schooling Options
In this emerging “middle ground,” Cooper and colleagues present innovative new options. They cite the example of several former religious schools that were reopened as public charter schools. This situation allows the community to continue to have a school and offers charter schools needed school facilities in which to operate. While no longer religious schools, several continue to have affiliations with sponsoring religious organizations who have converted faith-based education into values-based education.

The scholars also consider hypothetical models, such as one they term a “Charter Academy without Walls,” where a public charter school offers the secular academic subjects to students attending a private religious school. The state would pay all of the expenses for the secular teachers, allowing religious schools to focus on and fund the religious subjects and practices. The state essentially would pay for the secular education and the parents would pay for the religious education all of which takes place in one school building. As several schools are already operating as virtual charter schools, providing coursework from a separate online provider, this may pave the way for a similar hybrid approach between charter and religious schools. Cooper and colleagues see these and other new types of schools as moving toward common ground rather than creating conflicting private and public spheres.

Ideas to Consider
While the ideas presented are somewhat idealistic, particularly in imagining the sectors working together to form new schools, the sectors do have much to share and learn from each other. Religious and public educators alike will need to proceed with caution when planning these or similar types of new schools. As with anything new, decisions will need to be weighed and the ramifications of compromising on the religious or public identity of schools considered carefully. 

Keywords: school reform, school choice, vouchers, charters

Sector: Catholic,  Charter,  Evangelical Protestant,  Jewish,  Muslim,  Other Protestant,  Public

Outcomes: Civil and Political,  School Choice,  School Organization

Date Posted: 2014-01-13