Originally Posted by seamus
An idealised public-only system is incongruent with a free society.
Naturally people will congregate into communities of their peers. Middle class people will live in middle class areas. Working class in working class areas and so forth.
If you force schools to only accept people from their catchment areas, then the rich kids will all attend the same schools. If you have no enforced catchment areas, the schools themselves will be required to come up with their own fair system for allocating places which will undoubtedly conclude that those living closest to the school have more fair right to a place than those living far way.
Otherwise you have a ludicrous situation where a local child is forced to attend a school far away for no reason other than he failed to be selected in a lottery for any of the local schools. That in itself is contrary to the idea of a free society.
So ultimately you end up with the same problem no matter what you do - rich kids attend the same schools, poorer kids attend the same schools.
You could argue that the standard of education is uniform - and that's true to an extent - but as we all know from having been in school, the quality of any education is highly dependent on the quality of the students. A class with better students will learn faster than a class with poorer students.
Which means that the rich schools, whose kids will be attending extracurricular activities and whose parents have a higher regard for education, will perform better than the poorer schools where the kids go play football from 4pm to 10pm and the parents are less enthused about education.
There are a lot of good points here, but I don't think catchment areas need to be a part of this new system, and even if there is still a locality-selection process for the schools, that is a different problem to what my OP tries to address.
Lets say all the problems you point out there stand: things then change from an issue of social segregation due to wealth, plus neglect of the public system (through the wealthy and politically influential being able to bypass it), to an issue where societal problems in poor areas affect the quality of the schooling.
This is an issue that exists even in the current system, so that is still a net-benefit, as at least in principal
it affords everyone a more balanced level of equal opportunity, even if individual circumstances at certain schools affect that.
You also curtail the worst effects of private schools being able to cream-off easier to teach students through selective admission (as they would not be allowed to discriminate on who they enroll, even if locality is allowed to be a factor), and the wider issues of social segregation enrollment discrimination could aggravate.
Beyond that, there is plenty of room for redefinition of and tweaking of the enrollment process; you could provide a quota that (depending upon demand) a school may have to allow for 10% of students to come from non-local areas, which would be more of a lottery situation.
If demand is high in an area such that you would have to turn away local students to do this, then that would call for a new school in the area.