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Competition Means SOME Children Left Behind… and Who Are Those Children? You Know the Answer

April 17, 2016

Martin Levine’s American Prospect article, The Economics of Public Education in the Marketplace, was recently re-printed in the Non-Profit Quarterly and it offers a sobering analysis of how competition in the marketplace necessarily works. Levine’s article includes a quote and his analysis of the quote:

Paul Reville, an educational policy and administration professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education described the situation (of MA charters) and its surprises.

Those who introduced [competition] for the most part claimed that it would spawn a virtuous cycle, and it has some virtuous aspects to it, but it has also spawned a competition between the charter schools and the mainstream schools for scarce public resources. If we are going to have an extended experiment with making competition available in this space, I think that’s how you have to do it. People want to have competition without pain; well, pain is what drives competition.

Public school districts are responsible for educating every child. By their very nature, charter schools, while part of the state’s public school system, are responsible only for the children who they enroll. If a charter school fails, the traditional (non-charter) public school is the backstop and must have the capability of serving every child who chooses to enroll, whenever they need to enroll.

As I’ve written repeatedly, marketplace theories do not apply to public education because the objective of schooling is to provide everyone with an equitable opportunity to succeed and markets, which are based on competition, are necessarily Darwinian: the high priced products are superior to the low priced ones and only the affluent can afford high prices. As Levine concludes:

Traditional school districts are left with the mandate to teach children whose needs are expensive to fill without the resources to pay the bills. Efforts to address this through improved funding mechanisms do not work when the overall level of school funding remains well below what is required. In a 2011 report, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimated that the state’s public schools are underfunded by at least $2 billion. The assumption that the marketplace will be more efficient and would bring cost savings as well as educational improvement is undercut by this reality. As long as we remain committed to ensuring that every child receives the education they need, more competition may result in more, not less, cost.

This is an uncomfortable truth that no politician is willing to utter because doing so wold require them to simultaneously call for higher taxes… and so we continue to believe in fast, cheap, and easy solutions that are unrealistic and punitive to children raised in poverty.


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