In an exchange with Sol Stern over at City Journal last week, I pointed out that existing school choice programs should never have been expected to transform American education, because they bear little resemblance to real education markets.
In response, Stern implied that real education markets are not real all, being instead "such stuff as dreams are made on." (Did I mention we were waxing Shakespearean?)
As it happens, though, the free education marketplace of classical Athens was the first school system in the world that spread learning beyond a tiny ruling elite, and there have been numerous times and places throughout history where schooling was organized more or less as a free market. There are still such places today. And since I can't think of a suitable Shakespeare quote to illustrate them, how about a little riff on Gilbert and Sullivan:
They are the very models of a modern market school system.
It doesn’t matter how often the punditocracy’s dissed ‘em.
In the shanty towns of India, Kenya and Nigeria
Are schools known to the readers of Cato and Edutheria.
They are private, parent-funded, and they outperform the public schools,
After application of the best econometric tools.
And poor countries are not alone; ed. markets thrive in rich ones, too --
For instance businesses that tutor children in Japan (“juku”).
Just think of “Kumon” here at home or of the “Sylvan” chain.
They thrive and make a profit ‘cause the ed. monopoly’s inane.
For a more extensive, if less poetic, rundown of the evidence on market education (and US school choice programs), have a look here.