Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Should we privatize education?

Via Freakonomics Radio, with guest Edward Glaeser, who  recently published a book called “Triumph of the City:  How Our Greatest Innovation Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.”

The author makes a couple interesting points:

1. Cities are green.  Contrary to the first impression most people have of equating cities with smog and suburbs with green grass & blue skies, cities are actually better for Mother Earth than the suburbs.  More walking, more public transportation, smaller living spaces to heat & cool…  He makes some good points.

2. But what I found most interesting was this paragraph condemning the public education system:

“Certainly for anyone who’s a parent, like myself, the suburban school districts offer huge enticement to leave cities. And this is really a question of how we’ve decided to structure our schools. So I want you to just imagine, if, for example, instead of having a New York restaurant scene that was dominated by private entrepreneurs, who competed wildly with each other, trying to come up with new, new things and, you know, the bad restaurants collapsed, the good restaurants go on to cooking show fame, and you have these powerful forces of competition and innovation working. Imagine instead if there was a food superintendent, who operated a system of canteens, where the menus were decided at the local level, and every New Yorker had to eat in these canteens. Well, the food will be awful, and that’s kind of what we’ve decided to do with schooling. That instead of harnessing the urban ability to provide innovation, competition, new entry, we’ve put together a system where we turned all that system off. And we’ve allowed a huge advantage for a local, public monopoly. It’s very, very difficult to fix this.”

I think charter schools are a step in the right direction.  I would love to see an expansion of a system where there are more private or quasi-private (charter) options to choose from, where tax dollars followed the child to whichever school he/she attends.  Good schools thrive & grow; bad schools wither and die.

The current system sounds efficient in theory:  Superintendent drives overall mission; administration is centralized for the district; schools are left to teach.  But theory rarely works in practice, and this is no exception.

Your would love to one day run a private school Realtor,

Chris Butterworth