Tag: school choice

School Inc. and Andrew Coulson

All this week, the Center for Educational Freedom has been posting clips from Andrew Coulson’s award-winning documentary School Inc., which takes viewers through time and around the globe to explain how freedom is the key to transforming education for the better. Of course, a few clips can’t convey the entire case. If you want to soak in the whole journey you can do so on the website of Free to Choose Media, which finished production of School Inc. when Andrew became ill, and is the home to all three episodes. If that doesn’t satisfy your desire to better understand how free markets can work in education, or if you want to learn more about Andrew and his ideas—including disagreements with them—read Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson, Debating His Ideas. You can get Kindle or print-on-demand editions on Amazon, or download a PDF version right from Cato’s website.

I hope you had a happy and informative National School Choice Week!

School Choice Is about Embracing Free Enterprise

When did economic growth, and the standard of living of average people, really begin to take off? What caused it? There are many theories, but as Andrew Coulson discusses in the School Inc. clip below, there is good reason to believe not when banking was invented, or factories, or some technological change, but when earning a living through free enterprise—profitable commerce—stopped being seen as, well, kind of tawdry. It is a feeling we continue to struggle with when it comes to education.  

There is, of course, profit made throughout public schooling, if that’s defined as taking in more revenue from providing a good or service than is spent to produce it. Whiteboard manufacturers, construction companies, publishers—all are typically for-profit. Indeed, while absent a free market we don’t know what the “right” amount is to pay educators, and many public school teachers may well be underpaid, few likely lose money on their jobs. In other words, they make profits. Which is not to say they are “in it for the money.” No doubt they care about and enjoy working with kids, but they do need money to live. And it turns out the primary motivation of successful entrepreneurs and business people is not raking it in, but producing something they care about. Does anyone think Steve Jobs was actually indifferent towards computers and just wanted to get rich?

More important than who is making a profit are the overall incentives if profit is matched with funding through students. While the first-blush reaction to profit is understandable—shouldn’t children trump mammon?—thinking it through reveals why profit and paying customers are beneficial to all. They incentivize schools to respond directly to parents, who control the money and best know their children, while also making schools compete for teachers’ services. In addition, they encourage schools to compete with each other, incentivizing them to try new ways of educating to attract more families. And when schools find better ways to educate and are more profitable, it incentivizes others to copy the innovations, taking them to scale. Freedom also allows educators to specialize in the needs of unique subsets of kids and, of course, is crucial to achieving social harmony and equality in our diverse society.

As School Choice Week 2019 nears an end, perhaps no message is more important than, simply, “embrace freedom.” It is the key to so much that we need in education.

School Choice Is about Rewarding Good Teachers

One of the most common myths in education is that school choice is somehow bad for public school teachers. In fact, teachers started striking against school choice in Los Angeles just last week. However, basic economic theory tells us that school choice is actually good for teachers because it introduces competition for their employers. In a competitive education labor market, employers must compete for talent by offering teachers smaller class sizes, more autonomy, and higher salaries.

In fact, the five studies that exist on the subject all find that charter and private school choice leads to higher salaries for teachers in traditional public schools. For example, a study published in the Journal of Public Economics finds that charter school competition increases teacher salaries by about 3.4 percent in difficult-to-staff public schools. None of the five studies indicate that school choice competition is bad for public school teachers.

But that’s not all. As shown in Andrew Coulson’s School Inc. documentary, teachers in private institutions in South Korea are highly satisfied with their jobs because their students actually want to be there. And, of course, it’s easier for teachers in private educational institutions (“hagwons”) to tailor their lessons to students because the children “are matched with classes based on their performance levels” and interests.

Highly demanded teachers in South Korea are also financially rewarded for a job well done. As shown in the clip below, some of the teachers make well over $1 million each year. Now that’s an incentive structure that’s good for both students and teachers.

Maybe the teachers in Los Angeles should have been striking for more school choice, not less.

School Choice Is about Taking Innovation to Scale

Only a few years ago, if you’d been, say, dining out with friends, had a drink or two, and wanted to go somewhere else, like maybe home, you pretty much had one choice: call a taxi and hope you got a good one. Today you’ve got lots of options including the good ol’ cab, but also ridesharing networks like Uber, Lyft, and others that connect riders to regular people who are drivers and want to make some money, while often enabling both parties to rate their experiences. It was an idea that started with embryonic efforts in San Francisco around 2010, and just a few years later it is nearly ubiquitous. Innovation went quickly to scale.

As Andrew Coulson explains in the School Inc. clip below, we’ve seen this phenomenon—innovations in goods and services quickly made accessible to basically everyone—over and over. But there is one place where we haven’t seen it. Can you guess what it is? It might be where our assumption has long been that government has to supply a uniform service to everyone.

The clips coming in the next two days of National School Choice Week will give you a little more insight into how free enterprise can transform education for the good, but you’ll need to watch the entire series to get a full understanding of how embracing freedom would unleash transformative innovation. And while you watch, why not have some snacks? Thanks to the free market, you can order just about anything.   

School Choice Is about Accountability

Private schools are held directly accountable to families. They must attract their customers and provide a high-quality educational product if they want to stay in business. School choice programs  allow families to access schools that are accountable to their children’s needs.

Government schools are not held accountable to children in the current system. A family that is not satisfied with their child’s residentially assigned government school typically only has three options: (1) buy an expensive house that’s near a better government school, (2) pay for a private school out of pocket while still paying for the government school through property taxes, or (3) complain to the government school leaders and hope things get better.

The high costs associated with each of those options leaves most families powerless – especially the least advantaged.

This clip from Andrew Coulson’s award-winning School Inc. highlights the fact that school choice is all about accountability. Low-income families in India are asked the following question: “Why are you spending money on the private schools when the government schools are free?”

Their response is telling:

“In the government schools our children are abandoned.”

First and Foremost, School Choice Is about Liberty

Liberty. It is America’s foundational value. We have failed to uphold it for far too many people much too often, but the freedom of Americans to choose what they will believe, and how they will live, is at the very heart of the American experiment. It is fitting, then, that we kick off five days of National School Choice Week posts on Cato@Liberty with a reminder of the fundamental good that is sacrificed when government controls education.

As we will be doing all week, I direct your attention to a clip from Andrew Coulson’s award-winning School Inc., a documentary series that ran on PBS stations nationwide in 2017 and can still be watched, in its entirety, on the website of Free to Choose Media. Here, after discussing sometimes even deadly fights that Americans have had over what the public schools will teach, Andrew invokes Thomas Jefferson’s warning about the tyranny of compelled support of others’ views, and explains how, by compelling such support, public schooling forces wrenching, divisive conflict. Such conflict could be avoided were people allowed to direct the funding for their children’s education to educators who share their values. In other words, by upholding liberty school choice is both more just, and more conducive to social harmony, than public schooling.

 

Kids in Charter Schools Still Aren’t Getting Equal Education Funding

What a lousy deal. My colleagues at the University of Arkansas and I just released another study examining funding disparities between traditional public schools and public charter schools in 14 cities across the country. The overall finding is clear: families lose a substantial amount of education dollars when they pick charter schools for their children.

Using data from the 2015-16 school year, we find that children in charter schools receive $5,828, or 27 percent, less than their traditional public school peers each year, on average. Put differently, a family forgoes over $75,000 in educational resources for their child’s K-12 education if a charter school fits their needs better than the residentially assigned option. And, unfortunately, the funding inequities are much worse in some cities. As shown in Figure 1 below – and in the original report – children in charter schools in Washington, DC, and Camden, New Jersey receive over $10,000 less than their traditional public school peers each year.

 

But that’s not all. Our team has released four other reports over the past two decades with similar findings. And across the 8 cities with longitudinal data, the funding disparity favoring traditional public schools has grown by 58 percent since 2003 after adjusting for inflation. It’s like a swarm of mosquitoes in the summer. It’s persistent and never goes away.

 

Fortunately, one city in our sample has consistently demonstrated equitable funding across school sectors. In Houston, Texas, students in public charter schools receive only $517, or 5 percent, less than their peers in traditional public schools each year. In other words, equitable public school funding can be achieved if policymakers make the right decisions.

Families shouldn’t have to lose $5,828 each year in educational resources for each child that doesn’t fit into the one-size-fits-all education system. Thankfully, state policymakers have the authority, opportunity, and responsibility to achieve equal total funding of public school students in their states. Policymakers can deliver equitable education funding by revising state funding formulas to allow 100 percent of public education dollars to follow children to whatever school works best for them.

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