Friday, January 6, 2017

School choice is a parental right

Reason blogger Robby Soave writes:
A recent New York Times story that slams the free market approach to education policy is rife with inaccuracies. Amazingly, the author of the piece misrepresents the very data she is using to build her erroneous case against school choice.

"Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don't Buy It," claims Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, public policy, and economics at the University of Michigan, in The Times. This is a betrayal of expectations, according to Dynarski, because economists generally understand that free markets produce better outcomes than central planners (much to the chagrin of education professors). Economists are usually the ones calling for less regulation and more unrestricted capitalism; if they're super conflicted about markets in education, that would be a serious indictment of the school choice approach.
He is right that the NY Times is lying about the data, but I have a different point. It gives the impression that most economists are against school choice, but only about 5% are against it.

Both sides are a little sloppy about what is meant by terms like "better outcomes" and "higher quality". They act as if there is some agreement about what is better.

If there were agreement about what is better, then we could require the public schools to do that. But there is no such consensus. For example, some say teaching English is paramount while others are more concerned with LGBT bathrooms.

Free markets in things like cars give better outcomes partially because competition forces higher quality cars, but also because diverse cars are better able to meet the demands of consumers.

Supposed you asked: Would consumers be better served by having a choice of cars to buy?

Most everyone would say yes, because having a choice is better than not having a choice.

So why would anyone say that choice leads to a worse outcome? Presumably they think worse schools will somehow trick students into going there. Or maybe they don't like the costs of competition, such as undermining teachers unions. For example, the Democrat Party gets a lot of support from public school teachers unions, so it is against anything that the teachers unions don't like.

Is there a concern that people will choose worse schools? If so, then how is it that economists or other do-gooders know better than the parents?

This goes right to the heart of the merits of school choice. The best argument for school choice is not that charter school students will have better test scores or other objectively-defined advantages.

The better argument is that parents should have the right and authority to decide what is best for them and their kids. One school might suit the needs of a particular child better. Choice also makes the school more accountable to the parents, so they can switch to another school if something is unsatisfactory.

Leftists generally believe that families should not have that sort of autonomy, and that the schools should be used to indoctrinate the next generation and absorb them into the collective. So leftists hate school choice.

Discussion of charter school test scores is a smoke screen. Likewise with homeschooler test scores. I guess some parent homeschool their kids in the hope of getting higher test scores. but most have other reasons, and those parents should have the right to base their own decisions on their own judgments and priorities.

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