Corruption in the Public Schools: The Market Is the Answer
by Neal McCluskey
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This is an excellent article that shows how free markets can provide the best education for our children.
On the surface, it would seem that having government bureaucrats in charge of educating children would produce good results. For a time in America, it did. But not now. As Milton Friedman said in his commentary “Free to Choose” published in the Wall Street Journal on June 9, 2005:
“A Nation at Risk” stimulated much soul-searching and a whole series of major attempts to reform the government educational system. These reforms, however extensive or bold, have, it is widely agreed, had negligible effect on the quality of the public school system. Though spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1970 after allowing for inflation, students continue to rank low in international comparisons; dropout rates are high; scores on SATs and the like have fallen and remain flat. Simple literacy, let alone functional literacy, in the United States is almost surely lower at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century earlier. And all this is despite a major increase in real spending per student since “A Nation at Risk” was published.
“A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983.
The executive summary of “Corruption in the Public Schools”:
One of the most frequently voiced objections to school choice is that the free market lacks the “accountability” that governs public education. Public schools are constantly monitored by district administrators, state officials, federal officials, school board members, and throngs of other people tasked with making sure that the schools follow all the rules and regulations governing them. That level of bureaucratic oversight does not exist in the free market, and critics fear choice-based education will be plagued by corruption, poor-quality schools, and failure.
Recently, news surfaced that appeared to justify critics’ fears. Between the beginning of 2003 and the middle of 2004, Florida’s Palm Beach Post broke a slew of stories identifying corruption in the state’s three school choice programs. The number of stories alone seemed to confirm that a choice-based system of education is hopelessly prone to corruption. But when Florida’s choice problems are compared with cases of fraud, waste, and abuse in public schools — schools supposedly inoculated against corruption by “public accountability” — choice problems suddenly don’t seem too bad.
So which system is more likely to produce schools that are scandal free, efficient, and effective at educating American children? The answer is school choice, precisely because it lacks the bureaucratic mechanisms of public accountability omnipresent in public schools.
In many districts bureaucracy is now so thick that the purveyors of corruption use it to hide the fraud they’ve perpetrated and to deflect blame if their misdeeds are discovered. However, for the principals, superintendents, and others purportedly in charge of schools, bureaucracy has made it nearly impossible to make failed systems work. Public accountability has not only failed to defend against corruption, it has also rendered many districts, especially those most in need of reform, impervious to change.
In contrast to our moribund public system, school choice isn’t encumbered by compliance-driven rules and regulations, which allows institutions to tailor their products to the needs of the children they teach and lets parents select the schools best suited to their child’s needs. And accountability is built right in: schools that offer parents what they want at a price they are willing to pay will attract students and thrive, while those that don’t will cease to exist.
From the conclusion:
When examples of fraud, waste, or abuse are uncovered in school choice programs, they typically set off firestorms of criticism from people who oppose educational freedom. Critics quickly hold up any example of malfeasance in choice schools as proof that the market can’t provide the level of accountability supposedly guaranteed in public schools. But public schools’ accountability, as has been demonstrated constantly in districts around the nation, is a myth. Worse, it’s a myth whose propagation not only blinds people to the system’s failure to control corruption but also ignores bureaucracy’s disastrous toll on educational effectiveness. Ironically, though, there is a way to have both educational effectiveness and accountability, and it’s the very thing people who oppose school choice most fear: true choice-based education.