McCain and Obama Agree: Competition Good for Education

Education finally came up in a presidential debate and I heard something that I never heard before — the standard-bearers for both parties agreed that competition was good for public schools.  Sure, past Democratic candidates have endorsed school choice with charters, as Obama did.  But Obama did something new.  He specifically said that competition from charter schools was important for improving traditional public schools. 

Clinton, Gore, and Kerry embraced school choice with charters as an escape hatch for students condemned to failing public schools, sounding very much like Sol Stern, Mike Petrilli, and Rick Hess.  But Obama left previous Democratic candidates and these fellows at market-oriented (?!) think tanks in the dust by saying that choice was desirable because of competition. 

Here are Obama’s exact words: “Charter schools, I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from teachers unions. I think it’s important to foster competition inside the public schools.”

Of course, Obama wants to limit choice and competition to public schools (which include charters), while McCain wants to include private schools in the mix.  But they agree on the big idea:  public schools are improved when they have to compete to earn students and the revenue those students generate.

Just think.  Only twenty years ago school choice and competition was hardly a glimmer in Ronald Reagan’s eye.  Now the idea is so widely accepted as reasonable that the leaders of both parties differ only on the mechanism for producing choice and competition.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

Correction — Rick Hess emailed to say that he did not want to be counted among those who are unpersuaded by competitive effects from choice.  He does think that almost no current choice program is designed properly to produce competitive effects, but he thinks such effects are possible and desirable.

9 Responses to McCain and Obama Agree: Competition Good for Education

  1. Chris Walker says:

    Sounds like those market-oriented think tanks have some competition to deal with.

  2. The advancement of the charter schools concept is a good idea, and it’s far more effective than blanket voucher programs that in many worsen existing schools who lose a percentage of motivated students. Another idea that makes a lot of sense, and is not so drastic, is simply to create policies of open enrollment, like there is in Colorado. If you can get to a school, and they have room, you can go to it. Makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, that leaves support for schools to improve themselves, though some will close as several in the Denver Public School system have done.

  3. Larry Bernstein says:

    Don’t hold your breath. I doubt an Obama administration would use its political capital to push school choice. It was cheap rhetoric from a candidate who will be beholden to the teachers’ unions.

  4. matthewladner says:

    Michael- why would competition from charter schools be good, but private schools bad?

    Larry- there are some who claim that Obama is strong enough to be independent from the education unions. I hope they are right, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  5. Even if Obama does not act on what he is saying, the fact that he is saying it is important. It shows that Dems can disagree (even if only rhetorically) with the teacher unions on core issues. If Dems keep saying, eventually one of them may actually do it.

  6. Greg Forster says:

    For a long time, the whole idea that competition will improve education was dismissed as crazy right-wing ideology. That’s going to be a lot harder to say now; we just quote Obama and ask if he’s a crazy right-winger.

  7. […] Obama and McCain came out for competition in education in the final debate, Jay Greene points […]

  8. The issue of choice really tracks back to the issue of de facto segregation. The trapping of children in inferior schools because of the history of separate and unequal educational opportunities and choices.
    The contemporary conversation has taken on the verbage of the times, but the historic reference is older than the Brown case and the battle fought and won by Thurgood Marshal.
    To actualized the promise of America, all children should have the chance for the best possible educational environment.

  9. […] that competition arising from parental choice improves schools. In the last presidential debate, he said: “I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from […]

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