School Choice Will Not Lead to Equity, Here’s Why

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Pence advocating for School Choice 6/23/2020

School Choice Doesn’t “Work”

Perhaps the most salient point to start with is that “school choice” hasn’t actually worked to improve performance outcomes for most or all students involved. So, even if what you care about and measure is test scores, school choice doesn’t seem to work.

School Choice is Driven by Poor Assumptions

The underlying logic of school choice from an economic model perspective is poorly conceived. The basic premise of the school choice argument is that a free market, driven by individual choice will result in competition that increases quality and efficiency by making producers a) improve their product to gain consumers (a.k.a. competition increases quality) and b) decrease their costs to improve profits (a.k.a competition increase efficiency — output:cost ratio).

Poor assumption #1: Markets allow for good choice-making

Truth: Actually, without perfect information and good indicators of quality, markets can undermine good choice-making.

Basic economic theory requires that for these market models to work, participants need to have full information and be able to assess quality accurately in order to make a well-informed choice. Neither of these assumptions holds true in schooling markets: it is not clear that parents have access to full information to make the best choices, nor is quality as easily and accurately assessed as it might be when purchasing a consumer product or other service. Families don’t only care about test scores when they choose schools. Parents ask, “Will my child fit in? Will they have friends? Will teachers care about them? Can they do the activities they love?” — and they ask, “Will my child be safe? Will this school be convenient for our family?” — not just about test scores or indicators of culture more broadly.

Poor assumption #2: More choice is better

Truth: Actually, more choice often leads to worse decision-making.

Choosing a school is a taxing and time-consuming process. Research on choice suggests that having too many choices can actually undermine rather than promote freedom and well-being — and make us more likely to choose incorrectly for our needs or abdicate the responsibility for choosing altogether.

Poor assumption #3: Competition will increase school quality and efficiency

Truth: Actually, competition in a complex environment is likely to lead to worse quality and no “efficiency” gains.

First, the idea that schools will increase quality because of competition rests on a primary faulty — and, frankly insulting — assumption that educators both know how to, and have the capacity to, make their schools better…but they just don’t because there isn’t any competition from other schools. Do we really think there’s some hidden bandwidth or knowledge in schools that isn’t being used just because educators aren’t in competition?

School Choice Changes Education from the Right of a Citizen to the Choice of a Consumer

Okay, pause.

School choice is not something we should be debating if we want to maintain a democratic society. School choice takes an inherently public good and frames it as a private good — and we all lose because of it.

From an economics perspective, schooling as a public good simply means that, as a society, we all are better off if other people’s children are more educated — and, it is likely that many individuals would under-invest in their own children’s education relative to the societal benefit we gain from those children being educated. This is because educated children grow up to have or create good jobs, to be more-informed citizens, and to adhere more closely to public norms and laws. Considerable research finds that the more educated a country is, the higher its GDP per capita and returns to education are around found to be about 10%.

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Solving systemic problems to create a more just, loving world. Transforming education for human flourishing and thriving democracy. Co-Founder @ REENVISIONED.

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