Monday, June 1, 2009

The Education Marketplace

Education Sector has a new report out comparing DC charter schools to plans to bring more supermarkets and banks to underserved communities. The bottom line is that neither approach was the market-based salvation that they were meant to be.

In the case of the supermarkets and banks, they found that even with the new options available, people continued to go to the same old places, even though they offered little fresh food at higher prices. People had a better option available and for some reason weren't opting into it. The apparent value wasn't apparent for the members of the community.

The report compares what happened in that case to what's happening in the schools where an influx of high-performing KIPP schools has not created better public schools or even better charter schools from other providers. Critics might argue that via creaming, KIPP is taking the best kids and leaving the rest to drag down performance in the surrounding public schools. Setting aside that argument for a moment, there's something real to be said here about the market-based approach to school reform. Namely, that it's not all that successful.

As we've seen with the Milwaukee voucher program and now with the DC charter system, even if the private/charter schools provide good outcomes for those lucky enough to use them, they do not lead to a system-wide improvement in the quality of education being offered in those areas. Maybe it's because people aren't taking advantage (as in the supermarket case) of the better options available. Or maybe there's just something fundamentally different about schooling kids as opposed to selling them something.

I've written before that logically, the idea that markets will improve education makes sense. The evidence, though, seems to offer a different picture.

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