Fordham Follow Up

Yesterday, I wrote about a new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report on high-achieving students. I focused mainly on a bit of hyperbole issued by Fordham president Chester Finn and vice president Michael Petrilli concerning the “plainly” positive effect of government “standards and accountability” on low-achieving kids. Today, I just want to add a quick, seemingly obvious observation — but one barely hinted at in the report — concerning survey results that show teachers think high achievers in their schools get short shrift.

“Teachers say that while the public schools muster serious effort to improve the academic achievement of struggling students, their resources rarely converge on the needs of high achievers,” report Stave Farkas and Anne Duffett, who handled the survey section of Fordham’s report.

The problem is — you’ve got it! — one-size can’t fit all! A single system of public schools — especially one ever-more centralized with crude government accountability mandates like the No Child Left Behind Act — can only focus on one or two things at a time, and high achievers aren’t it.

So what’s the obvious solution? School choice!

In a market, consumers purchase things according to their individual preferences, needs, abilities, etc., and producers tailor products accordingly. I need a small, fuel-efficient car, I get a Corolla. You want a big beast to haul your soccer balls, you get a Suburban. I want dinner that’s also entertainment, I go to Benihana. You want buttered lobster bites, you head to Long John Silver’s.

When producers and consumers are free, diverse preferences that seem almost infinite are met by equally diverse providers, and everyone is better off. With school choice, gifted kids could go to schools that specialize not only in nurturing gifted children, but specific talents like artistic ability or scientific acumen. On the flip side, students with specific learning disabilities could go to schools that focus on their problems. In contrast, when everyone gets what government tells them they’re going to get, well, you know what happens.

Sadly, the only choices mentioned in Fordham’s report are district-run magnet schools and programs, but since the survey was of public school teachers, that’s understandable.  What’s not understandable is why in their NRO piece yesterday, Finn and Petrilli, while lionizing government “accountability” for supposedly helping low-achieving students, didn’t point to the huge promise of markets to educate each and every student.