In spite of ever rising costs and increasingly disappointing results, the government monopoly on education is hardly ever called into question. Education, defenders of the system argue, is too important to leave to the free market.
The arguments put forward by those in favor of a state-run system typically boil down to two misleading claims. First, that education cannot or should not be a profitable enterprise and second, that without extensive government regulations and controls, social inequality will widen.
The fact that private schools exist and prosper throughout the world disproves the first claim in part. There are many families who do not have the resources to pay for their children’s education which seems to necessitate government interference. Is their need ample reason to force others to provide for them however?
In spite of many decades of state-run schools and legislative restraints on private initiatives, social inequality is still present and in some societies, prevalent. While public schooling allows youngsters of ability to rise on the social ladder more easily, poverty as such has not been eradicated.
The downsides of the “government option” also deserve mention. The lack of fair competition means that private schools are more expensive than they would otherwise probably be while in public schools, especially in the United States, test scores are low. These schools, consequently, have come to oppose standardized testing, arguing that poor performance is harmful to a child’s self-esteem. Rather than allowing quick learners to advance, classes are rarely organized according to ability. Uniform curricula and peer pressure discourage excellence instead. Government-run schools now mass-produce mediocrity.
Pupils, and parents, deserve a better choice than this. Indeed, they deserve choice to begin with. John Stossel, libertarian columnist and Fox News contributor, tells the story of low-income families, desperate to get their child into a private school because the public system is failing them miserably. The answer? Competition. “It makes everything better.”
Parents care about their kids and want them to learn and succeed — even poor parents. Thousands line up hoping to get their kids into one of the few hundred lottery-assigned slots at Harlem Success Academy, a highly ranked charter school in New York City. Kids and parents cry when they lose.
Yet professionals and politicians oppose choice. The teachers’ union demonstrated outside Harlem Success the first day of school while President Barack Obama killed Washington DC’s voucher program.
Why do parents with meager resources pass up “free” government schools and sacrifice to send their children to private schools? Because, as one parent told the BBC, the private owner will do something that’s virtually impossible in America’s government schools: replace teachers who do not teach.
Allow fair and full competition between schools and Stossel predicts that test scores will go up. Parents, after all, will send their children to the best school available to them. But without choice, anything goes, and those trapped in the public system will never have the same chances in life as those who enjoyed the good fortunate of being educated in a private school.