Commentary

Private Schools vs. Public Schools - Why Private Schools Are Better

Public schooling — schools run by government — is un-American. By its very nature it creates inequality, forces people into conflict and smothers innovation. Private schooling, in contrast — with money following children and educators able to teach as they want — is moored in freedom and equality.

When people contemplate inequality, they tend to think about unequal access or outcomes. Public schooling suffers mightily in those areas, with the well-to-do able to access good public schools by purchasing homes in affluent districts. And the wealthy tend to see much better outcomes in terms of test scores, college-going, and jobs. These are not wholly a function of the K-12 schools — what children experience outside of school has a greater impact on their lives than what happens in it — but the huge barrier to accessing a good school called “the price of a house” does not help.

That said, the inequality that is even more distinctly un-American is inequality under the law. With all people having to fund government schools, but only those able to exercise the most political power controlling them, that is what public schooling creates.

America is about liberty, equality under the law and dynamism. When it comes to education, only private schooling is, too.

Want evolution taught, but your district is dominated by creationists? Too bad. Mexican-American, and you want a course on your history? You’re out of luck in many districts. Religious, and you believe faith is essential to your child’s education? You are absolutely unequal; teaching religion is impermissible in any public school, but religious people must still pay for them. Of course, for over a century many public schools were de facto Protestant institutions, rendering Jews, Catholics, atheists and others second-class citizens.

The sad product of this winner-take-all system is not just inequality, but often painful social conflict, as neighbors are forced to battle neighbors to get what they want from the schools. The Cato Institute’s Public Schooling Battle Map contains nearly 1,500 values and identity-based conflicts in districts around the country, and probably just captures a fraction — those that make headlines—of such battles. What keeps such conflagrations from being even more common? Either one side wins, perpetuating discrimination, or all sides agree to lowest-common-denominator — but inoffensive — content, such as biology courses free of human origins, or reading lists bereft of intellectually challenging literature.

By allowing people to choose schools, private schooling steps on the fuse of social conflict, empowering all people to access coherent, rigorous content consistent with their values and desires, and no longer pricing access at the cost of a house. It allows educators to establish schools as they see fit, not according to hand-tying rules dictated by districts, states, or Washington. And it enables teachers to specialize in the needs of unique children, and innovate with new pedagogical approaches and ideas.

America is about liberty, equality under the law and dynamism. When it comes to education, only private schooling is, too.

Neal McCluskey is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and maintains Cato’s Public Schooling Battle Map.