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Education Week Misses the Boat on Op Ed Article Advocating Free Market Solutions to Inequality

January 8, 2018

I was somewhat perplexed to see that Education Week published an op ed piece by Gary Wolfram, the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Perplexed because the column was a recounting of the same tired arguments Michigan policy makers— and “reformers” have been advancing for at least there decades, arguments that are readily undercut and completely contradicted by all evidence. The title of Mr. Wolfram’s essay – “Make Public Education a Market Economy—Not a Socialist One”– should have been enough to lead to it’s rejection. His unoriginal thinking should have surely led to it’s publication by, say, Fox News instead of Education Week. Mr. Wolfram’s thinking goes like this:

  • There is an abundance of data showing the underperformance of our nation’s public schools. (i.e. international test scores widely discredited by educators dan even politicians)
  • …ineffective education tends to center in large, urban areas (which is where large groups of children raised in poverty are enrolled) 
  • Our nation produces technology so advanced that I could use the phone in my pocket… to take a video of you and email it to someone in London, but at the same time we can’t seem to teach a 4th grader to read in Detroit. (this overlooks all of the inherent glitches in our technology due to it’s desire to innovate-for-the-sake-of-innovation and makes a bogus comparison between an engineering problem and a human problem)
  • ….the reason for this huge disparity is not that we don’t spend enough money on our urban schools… It is that we produce cellphones through the market process, and we produce public education through a system that is basically one of central planning. (…this overlooks that many charter schools far outspend Detroit’s reported per pupil amount and that many neighboring and contingent school districts outspend Detroit as well.) 

The main reason Education Week should have rejected this story is because Michigan is a perfect example of everything that could go wrong with charter schools. A quick series of Google searches reveled that “government” schools in Michigan outperform for-profit de-regulated schools; Michigan has the second most segregated schools in the nation; and Michigan’s funding formulas, inequitable to begin with, are becoming more so. How does this track record in a State that has championed deregulated for-profit charter schools support the notions espoused by Betsy DeVos and other “reformers” that the free market will “…improve the education of the poorest among us by expanding the ability of parents to trust their own judgment and choose the schools that serves their child best”? Short answer: it doesn’t— it demonstrates the opposite.

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