Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Market Forces and Education: a Solution?

In recent years, public schools across the nation have been in the spotlight for accusations of decreasing test scores, mediocre standards at best, and a lack of social values. The escalating dissatisfaction with schools has led more and more parents to school choice. While criticisms of education in the United States continue to rise, some public and private schools have shown improvement. However, there is widespread variability in the amount of progress that schools are making. For example, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), New York City public schools had an average of 53% of students below basic reading levels, while Washington DC had 69% in 2005. New York City showed a 6% improvement rate from 2002 to 2003, and Washington DC had a 0% improvement rate in the same years. Such variations in school progress occur not only at the state level, but also according to district allocations and whether or not it is an urban or rural area. How do we explain these variations in school improvement rates?

Does introducing market-like forces, (i.e. competition among private and public schools through government issued school vouchers), into the education arena facilitate or hinder school performance? Assuming education operates in harmony with the basic market theory of economics, it seems logical that school choice will promote schools to improve test scores in math, reading, writing, science, and other essential subject matters from year to year. Schools that are unable to keep up in the “business” of education will then “go out of business”. Market theory generates the claim that treating education as a commodity will force schools to improve their test scores as a result of competing with other educational institutions.

However, while this argument theoretically seems to make sense, I question its merits. Doesn't introducing school competition fundamentally go against the American ideal of an equal education for all students? Furthermore, does providing certain families with school vouchers simply take away money from the public schools, causing them to further spiral downward?

These are all questions that I am exploring in my senior seminar- a class on education policy in the United States. I would love to get feedback on what you think about school choice. I will be sure to update this blog after conducting further information on the topic.

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