Monday, March 07, 2005


I promised to blog about competition as it relates to education policy. Yes, this is building the case for school choice and why it is not the evil the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) makes it out to be.

WEAC says it wants to use the monies being directed to school choice to improve public education for everyone. Its solutions typically revolve around reducing classroom size, and increased education funding. This is where it can become hard to argue since it is easy to cast those who oppose increased funding as wanting to take the morsel of food from a starving child's mouth.

The problem though is that there is no correlation between increased funding and increased school performance, or it is marginal at best. Taxpayers rightly do not want to spend ever increasing sums of money to no or marginal effect.

Reduction in classroom size is more of the same. Being a former teacher I enjoyed it when I had small classes (the smallest one I had was three students) and as a former student I enjoyed small classes as well (I was in one class with one other student, and another with two others). Again though quality of education is more than just resources brought to bear. In fact Greg Underheim informed myself tonight Madison has markedly higher teacher to student ratio than the average but its performance indicators do not show an improvement.

This is where school choice comes in. Now there are two ways to look at it. We can say school choice forces change upon the public schools by competing with other educational institutions or we can say it allows parents more say in their children's education. No matter what it does it makes the public schools earn their pay in a way they did not have to do before.

Competition is one of the fundamental life forces. We either compete or we go nowhere that is we do not improve or we regress. Competition for scarce resources and winning those resources is the aim of every private enterprise. There are people who believe certain areas of human endeavor should be above competition, however this is not the way our world works.

Even without choice schools compete, the problem is for public schools their job is so much easier. Think about it, what car sells more units Honda or Ferarri? Why does Honda sell more despite the Ferarri being a more desirable car? The cost in dollars. This is why the public school sells (typically) an inferior product but delivers much more of it. So, the public schools have a huge leg up on their competition.

Okay so now we have school choice. What does that exactly do? It makes the quality of private education more affordable and the downside to school choice is for every child a public school loses to a school choice the public school loses a certain amount of dollars. So now the public school is faced with a carrot and a stick (before it was only carrots), lose a child because a parent wants their child to get a good education and you lose dollars as well. That is the public school system loses its government licensed edge over private schools.

The public schools then have a choice improve the results of their work or lose resources. When faced with those choices people and organizations have a tendency to to come up with some real neat and great ideas.