The last decade of public debate about public education has revolved around concerns that educational quality is declining. The public schools, many think, have become ineffective and inefficient deliverers of educational services. Many schemes have been proposed to overcome the problems of the public schools. In this paper, the authors examine whether an alternative scheme--vouchers--can solve the effectiveness and efficiency problems of the educational system through the mechanism of market accountability. First, the authors examine how public schooling has evolved to meet societal goals and how it has responded to competing public concerns. Then they turn their attention to the proposals and responses of voucher advocates, evaluating them in the light of the forces that have shaped public education in this country.