In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to argue that government should be operated more like a business. As an example, a manifesto written by sixteen public school executives explains how to fix public schools:
Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school—a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds.
Recognizing “basic economic principles of supply and demand” is a good place to start. But what is the essence of supply and demand? And how does it apply to our schools?
Wikipedia describes supply and demand as an economic model of price determination in a market. It concludes that in a competitive market, the unit price for a particular good will vary until it settles at a point where the quantity demanded by consumers (at current price) will equal the quantity supplied by producers (at current price), resulting in an economic equilibrium of price and quantity.
How does this apply to schools? Let us first look at the nature of public schools.
Public schools are funded by taxes, which are extracted from parents and non-parents alike. Taxpayers have no choice in the matter—their money is taken by force and used for purposes they may or may not approve. For many parents, these taxes make private education for their children impossible. The absence of choice does not end there.
Parents who cannot afford private education or home schooling have little choice but to send their children to public schools. If they don’t, compulsory attendance laws could land them in jail. And, once their children are in school, they will be taught a curriculum chosen by politicians and educational bureaucrats, not the parents. For example, your children might be taught evolution, though you support creationism.
Every aspect of public education renders your judgment irrelevant. You are forced to pay for a service you may not want or need. You are forced to support the teaching of ideas with which you may or may not agree. If consumers and taxpayers have no choice, how can supply and demand apply to public schools? In short, it can’t. Public schools obtain both their funds and their customers by compulsion. They are divorced from market considerations, including supply and demand.
Public schools—and indeed, no government institution—can be operated like a business. The only way to improve our schools is to get government out of education. Our schools should not be run like a business, but as a business. Consider what this would mean:
- Non-parents would not be forced to pay for the education of children who are not their own. If they so desire, they are free to provide financial assistance to anyone they choose.
- Parents would not be forced to subject their children to ideas they find immoral. They would be free to select schools that teach the ideas and values they advocate.
- Educators would not be compelled to meet the demands of educational bureaucrats and politicians. They would be free to meet the demands of the market.
A free market in education would create an abundance of choices for parents and students. Educators would have to compete for business by offering the curriculums that parents want. Indeed, this was the case in colonial America:
Historical records, which are by no means complete, reveal that over one hundred and twenty-five private schoolmasters advertised their services in Philadelphia newspapers between 1740 and 1776. Instruction was offered in Latin, Greek, mathematics, surveying, navigation, accounting, bookkeeping, science, English, and contemporary foreign languages. Incompetent and inefficient teachers were soon eliminated, since they were not subsidized by the State or protected by a guild or union. Teachers who satisfied their customers by providing good services prospered. One schoolmaster, Andrew Porter, a mathematics teacher, had over one hundred students enrolled in 1776. The fees the students paid enabled him to provide for a family of seven.
A privatized educational system gives parents and students meaningful choices. And it respects the moral right of each individual to act on his own judgment.
For decades, politicians and educators have suggested an endless stream of “reforms.” Yet, the performance of our schools continues to decline. It is time to truly allow supply and demand into education. It is time to abolish public schools.