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Oct 19, 2006

Marie Gryphon on School Choice

Imagine, for a moment, that American cars had been free in recent decades, while Toyotas and Hondas sold at full price.  We'd probably be driving Falcons and Corvairs today.  Free public education suffers from a lack of competition in just this way.  So while industrires from aerospace to drugs have transformed themselves in order to compete, public schooling has stagnated.

-- Marie Gryphon, educational programs director at the Institute for Humane Studies and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, in Business Week magazine, 16 Oct 2006


Yes, no, maybe?

01:46 AM in Quotables | Permalink


No. (Imagine that, me disagreeing with the Cato Institute.)

I got most of my education through public schools, but from 2/3 of the way through seventh grade through 9th grade, I went to a private school. Every year I was there, my standardized test scores, in comparison to others in my grade level, went down.

My experience with private schools, or at least Carolina Day School, was that they were chock full of children of wealthy families who either felt entitled or simply knew they weren't facing real economic risk in life. It was expected that everyone slacked off on homework, pissed around in class, and smoked up when bored.

National studies of test scores generally confirm this. Sure, private schools have higher standardized test scores, higher employment after graduation, fewer personal bankrupcies, and lower proportions of delinquency in their graduates. But once you correct for income, parental employment, and other SES factors, public schools match or outperform their private counterparts. In other words, if you're from a wealthy family, you're pretty much guaranteed to have higher measurable achievement no matter where you go to school. But you may actually do better in public school than you would have in private school.

Funny which examples Gryphon used to illustrate the benefits of private enterprise. The aerospace industry's innovations have been largely underwritten by their enormous defense contracts, of course. Many of the developments in civilian aviation originated as military projects. (The DC-3, champion of the skies for decades, was a WW-II knockoff, and in some cases, converted planes from actual wartime use.) The drug industry, on the other hand, has essentially piggy-backed on trillions of dollars of NIH funding since the early 80s. Commercial successes? Sure. Entirely stemming from private industry? Not so much.

Public school teachers are motivated by something deeper than economic incentive -- the desire to work with children, the desire to help improve society, and the desire to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Things like that do nothing but piss off the Cato types.

Posted by: Michael | Oct 21, 2006 7:20:57 PM

A qualified "yes." The main reason that private or chartered public schools are successful, in my view, is that the student body usually belongs to a self-selected group: children of parents who care about education and are simultaneously (and by definition) dissatisfied with public school offerings. There is often considerable overlap with this group and "wealthy parents," but that is far from the whole story.

I am very lucky in that I had very good educational experiences in both private and public schools in North Carolina, from kindergarten to graduate school; the first eight years of my life were spent at a very fine (and not-at-all rich or snooty) parochial school, and then it was public school (and public universities, not incidentally) from then on.

Michael, I disagree strenuously with you that "Cato types" (of which I am one, if being a libertarian/economic conservative fits your definition) have any difficulty at all with concepts like altruism, the desire to improve society, or the desire to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. That's quite a straw-man you've built there; care to elaborate on it? Most of the libertarians I know are active in their communities and work for the causes in which they believe, and most of these causes involve something other than our own private, selfish benefit.

One of the big success stories in New York City education circles, for instance, is the Toussaint Institute, a group that identifies "at risk" kids in the public school system and finds scholarship aid to get them into private or charter schools. I did volunteer work with them when I first came to New York City, and have kept in touch and offered financial support ever since.

Agreed that citing aerospace as an instance of "private enterprise" is lame, though.

Posted by: Barry Campbell | Oct 24, 2006 4:35:48 AM