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Monday, February 20, 2012

On the Road to Market-Driven Education

I have a great idea.

All kinds of regulations restrict what we can do on roads owned and operated by the government. Speed limits, traffic lights, safety inspections - it all keeps us from getting to where we’re going as fast as possible. The government is slowing us down. Worse, it’s hampering commerce, making us less competitive in the global economy.

Just think of the economic benefits of a privatized, less regulated road system. We could all drive as fast as we want, wherever we want. Those who lack the skill to drive fast - or those weirdos who want to enjoy the scenery along the way - can just get off the road. Let them take another road where people drive slower - if they can find one. Sure, those roads will have been allowed to fall into disrepair, but that’s where the slow drivers belong, anyway.

Yes, there will be a higher accident rate - more casualties, more people who never arrive at their destinations. But that’s only a small proportion of drivers. The rest of us will be zooming along, getting there faster, getting our business done, and benefiting from efficient, unregulated roads.

After all, why should the government have a monopoly on roads? Let the private sector determine what roads we need and where to put them, and then build the ones they deem necessary, based on potential profitability. Those who happen to live in an out-of-the-way place where they don’t put a decent road can move. And if they can’t afford to move - well, if they work hard, someday they might be able to.

What if two competing companies want to build roads in the same area? Let them! Competition is good. Drivers will vote with their wheels. The failing roads will eventually close. And what about companies trying to make a quick buck by creating poor-quality roads on the cheap? They’ll fall apart eventually and people will stop using them, of course.

And how about all the money the government would save by no longer enforcing traffic laws? Think of the tax cuts!

That’s basically what competitive, business-model education reform is all about. It’s what Milton Friedman wrote about in the 1980s in his paper, “Public Schools: Make Them Private,” and it’s what the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice remains dedicated to. It’s what the Broads, Waltons, Gates, Kochs, DeVoses and others are spending large fortunes to achieve. It's what ALEC crafts model legislation to do. It’s what charters and vouchers are stepping stones to.

Let the private sector build and operate schools that get kids from A to B as fast as possible, as determined by scores on standardized tests. If a kid can’t keep up, she can find someplace else to go, like her neighborhood public school. Sure, a large part of its funding will have been diverted to charter schools and vouchers, but that’s the price she must pay for living in a speedy 21st-century society.

Competition is a good model - for some things. It promotes profit-driven innovation, and that can be good. But not all innovations are good. Some are downright terrible, but, through the power of marketing, they still sell well - at least for a while. Think low-tar cigarettes and miracle diet aids - market-driven innovations based on junk science and flawed research, just like so many education reforms being promoted today.

In a free market, everything is out there, the good, the bad, and the deceptive. Is that how we want to run public education?

UPDATE: ALEC is one of the key forces in the privatization of public education. Learn more about what they're up to here.

1 comment:

Fishguy said...

Firefighting used to be a private for-profit industry. In the 1800's ... in cities like New York and Baltimore, there were private "clubs" or "gangs" who were in charge of putting out fires. ... The ... first club at the scene got money from the insurance company. So, they had an incentive to get there fast [and/or] to sabotage competition.
They also often ended up getting in fights over territory and many times buildings would burn down before the issue was resolved. They were glorified looters. It was corrupt, bloated and expensive -- but at least it wasn't the much maligned "government controlled."