School Choice Pessimism
By Arnold Kling
If Hoxby and Peterson were right in asserting that markets were enough to fix our education woes, then the ed schools wouldn’t be the disasters that Hirsch, Ravitch, and others have exposed. Unlike the government-run K–12 schools, the country’s 1,500 ed schools represent an almost perfect system of choice, markets, and competition. Anyone interested in becoming a teacher is completely free to apply to any ed school that he or she wants…Yet the schools are uniformly awful, the products the same dreary progressive claptrap…
Instead of competition and diversity in the education schools, we confront what Hirsch calls the “thoughtworld” of teacher training, which operates like a Soviet-style regime suppressing alternative perspectives. Professors who dare to break with the ideological monopoly—who look to reading science or, say, embrace a core knowledge approach—won’t get tenure, or get hired in the first place. The teachers they train thus wind up indoctrinated with the same pedagogical dogma whether they attend New York University’s school of education or Humboldt State’s. Those who put their faith in the power of markets to improve schools must at least show how their theory can account for the stubborn persistence of the thoughtworld.
As a voucher proponent, I could argue that on the demand side, the market for teachers is dominated by public schools. You don’t go to ed school to teach in private schools–you go there to get certified to teach in public schools. A voucher system would raise the demand for teachers in private schools, and this might provide an impetus for changes in ed schools.
But I am a pessimist that there is any panacea for education (Stern comes close to saying that top-down curriculum reform is a panacea). I think that it is very difficult to overcome individual learning disabilities, poor executive function (I think that is the term du jour for kids who can’t handle deadlines and homework), and dysfunctional values in families and peer groups.
I favor vouchers because they transfer power from bureaucrats and unions to parents. Maybe that transfer of power will improve education a lot, maybe only a little. But I view public schools as one of the major institutional assaults on liberty.
I am aware of the risk that vouchers could provide politicians with an excuse to regulate private schools more closely. My goal in supporting vouchers is to weaken politicians, not strengthen them. I believe that if citizens want to keep politicians from over-regulating schools under a voucher system, we can do so. In the end, there is no way to preserve liberty unless citizens are vigilant in protecting it.