Choice Improves Government Schools, Part MMDCCLIX

Everybody sing along! Come on, you remember the words! “This finding’s been replicated…”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on why a universal ESA is the way to go if you want to improve outcomes in the government school system:

We’ve tried lots of strategies for getting better outcomes out of the monopoly school system. We’ve tried spending an endless geyser of additional money—Oklahoma school spending went up from $3,771 per student in 1970 to $8,735 in 2016 (in inflation-adjusted dollars), and has continued to increase, hitting a record total this year. We’ve tried high-stakes testing. We’ve tried raising teacher pay. Other states have run major experiments with everything from smaller classes to merit pay for teachers to mandatory graduation exams.

Here and there, a few of these efforts have produced local instances of success. But none of them has worked consistently at scale. And even the local success stories have a tendency to fade over time, as school leadership inevitably gets passed on to a new “pharaoh who knew not Joseph.”

What works? School choice, according to a large and consistent body of empirical research.

Some people simply can’t wrap their heads around the idea that government schools would be improved by taking the handcuffs off parents and allowing them to leave the system. They’re so busy “strengthening” the system that they can’t see they’re really weakening it. They’re denying it the one thing it really needs: healthy accountability. Bob Dylan was right—you gotta serve somebody.

This is sometimes called the “paradox of intention.” It happens when people are so monomaniacally intent on achieving a goal that they lose perspective on the big picture, and as a result, do things that are counterproductive even for the goal they’re obsessed with. We’ve all seen the guy who wants a date with a particular girl so badly that he acts stalkerish and creepy around her. In every war, there are leaders who want to capture a particular position so badly that they don’t have the patience to wait for the right moment to strike. We keep shoving bigger subsidies at colleges because we want to make tuition affordable, and as a direct result, tuition keeps climbing into the stratosphere.

Come for the overview of school-choice research, stay for the snappy C.S. Lewis quote at the end!

Exercise your right to hold others accountable through choice by choosing to let me know what you think.

5 Responses to Choice Improves Government Schools, Part MMDCCLIX

  1. Mike O'Neal says:

    Agree 100% with this article, but would add that the other element necessary to improve government schools is to put them back in the control of and accountability to parents.

    • Greg Forster says:

      That’s the reason I support school choice – because it does that! No other change is needed, or desirable, toward that goal.

  2. Tunya Audain says:

    As a great-grandparent I also agree that universal ESAs — strategically reducing monopolistic public schooling problems — would be a good move of governments. Not only would school performance likely improve but parents would be better equipped to find education that best fits their child(ren).

    But the accountability issue, however, is another can-of-worms. The compulsory attendance laws of the North American school systems are a mishmash. Accountability to parents must also ensure accountability to the taxpayer and to society. IMO.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    It’s true that the compulsory attendance laws are a mixed bag, sometimes ill-drafted, as is often the case with state laws that aren’t frequently subject to significant legal tests. As school choice becomes the norm over the coming century, I expect we’ll see those laws revisited and ultimately improved – although the process will be messy and may not always come out well.

    Accountability to parents and “accountability” to a government that will jealously seek to stamp out any rival to its own supremacy (which is the only possible real meaning of accountability to “taxpayers” or “society”) are mutually exclusive alternatives.

  4. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    Escape options* provide needed system accountability and flexibility, with different mixes of flexibility, compliance (monitoring) costs, financial accountability, and performance accountability.

    *Charter schools, tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, education tax credits, GED at any age and subsidized private-sector employment to age 18, subsidized homeschooling, and Parent Performance Contracting.

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