Fix Schools by Not Fixing Them


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective just went online with my article on how to fix schools by not fixing them:

Wanting something too much can prevent you from getting it. In school, we all knew at least one unpopular kid whose desperate, overbearing desire to have friends and be liked was the main reason nobody wanted to be around that person. Sit down with a loved one and say, “now let’s have a really good talk,” and silence will result. The hypochondriac protects himself from germs so well that his immune system is weakened from disuse, and he gets sick…

It’s an insidious trap. The dysfunctions of the system are so bad, we tell ourselves, that we can only fight them if we give money and power to those who will promote the reforms. Once these people have money and power, they set about consolidating their position, working not to improve education but to reinforce their access to money and power. And because they have been anointed as the people whose job is to “fix the public schools,” they tell themselves – sincerely – that they’re building up their own money and power for the sake of improving education. It’s for the children.

I argue that the reason school choice has the best track record of improving public schools is that “improving public schools” is not its formal purpose:

School choice improves public schools precisely because it does not make an idol out of “fixing the public schools.” In fact, it fixes public schools precisely because it establishes that the educational needs of children are more important than the institutional needs of public schools. Instead of taking children for granted as a captive audience, schools must educate children or lose them.

10 Responses to Fix Schools by Not Fixing Them

  1. pbmeyer2014 says:

    Greg, thank you for stating that it’s not choice’s goal to “fix” public schools. This is exactly why — or, at least, part of the reason why — choice advocates should not bring their education agnosticism to the question of curriculum. We need to have vigorous debate about good-bad-better books and good-bad-better pedagogy. Sure, giving parents the choice of which is good-bad-better is fine, but, please, can we stop arguing against the “common core” simply because it doesn’t fit the no opinion predilections of the the free marketeers. Choice means options; it doesn’t mean a vacuum.

    • Greg Forster says:

      I could focus on what an outrageous straw man this argument is, but instead I’ll focus on the fact that your response to a post on school choice, which didn’t mention CC, is to complain that opponents of CC are monomaniacal.

  2. pbmeyer2014 says:

    Go ahead, off with my straw man head. The fact is, as you rightly point, choice is agnostic about education values, pedagogy, curriculum, good-books-bad-books, hair color, etc. Is that a fair statement? I’m just trying to say that such agnosticism shouldn’t apply to values, pedagogy, curriculum, etc. That, for instance, live theater could be really neat, like common core could be good, and that such debate can and should go on in a different arena.

  3. matthewladner says:


    While you describe the choice tribe as agnostic on questions of curriculum, it might be more accurate to say that we are serene in the knowledge that such things will be valued by parents and prosper in a choice environment.

  4. pbmeyer2014 says:

    Matt, I could quibble, but it’s Christmas eve and I’ll settle for serene. Happy holidays to all you cranks and grinches at Jay P. Greene’s Blog!

  5. matthewladner says:

    Merry Christmas to you Peter- if an understanding and respect for pluralism makes one a Grinch, then I confess to being a bad banana with a greasy black peel!

  6. Ryan says:

    I wish they would let teachers master curriculum before changing it each and every year.

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