Friday, September 22, 2006

School Choice

We have been talking about the efficiency of markets in class, and an area where many people think markets could play more of a role is education. Eminent economist Milton Friedman was one of the first to form this modern notion of "school choice," where individuals can use government money (like vouchers) to choose which school they go to instead of just go to the school where they live. The main benefit would come from the competition between schools, which would act as a constant incentive to improve the educational experience at the school.

Here is a post on Marginal Revolution that discusses a talk by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby. The policy paper linked from that post discusses the 3 elements that Dr. Hoxby thinks must exist for school choice to work:
- Supply flexibility, which means that schools should have the ability to open where there is demand for them, expand with increased demand and contract with reduced demand

- Money should follow students, which means that funding policies must be designed so that schools that are in demand have the funds to expand and those that are not in demand lose funds and must contract; and

- Independent management of schools, which means that schools must be free to innovate in a range of areas, including pedagogy, teacher pay, budget allocation, and the way the school is organised.
Now being at a private school, you guys have at least some idea of the benefit of competition between schools. What do you think of the overall idea as a replacement for the current public school system? Let's get a discussion going of some of the key issues involved.

(Source: Marginal Revolution)


Anonymous said...

If public schools were in competition with each other, and all of the money to support the school depended on the amount of students who chose to attend, then a smaller school would have limited resources and equipment to teach (definitely no smart boards!), which would keep more students from coming, keeping the school with limited resources. One of the supposed advantages to private schools now is the smaller class size which enables students to get more individual attention, but if the schools with small classes are the "bad" schools and the huge schools are "good," then there is no happy medium in that respect. One thing that public schools in Georgia thought about implementing last year was a base salary for all teachers and then additives based on how well each teacher's students performed on standardized tests (to keep the teachers "on their toes" in teaching every kid), and this new system would probably also work to keep teachers active in that if their school is not in demand, no or fewer students will come, leaving the school with no or little money to allocate to its teachers (an incentive for teachers to work at their best, I guess). As far as the expanding and contracting of schools based on the demand, I think that would be difficult to actually put into practice in a decent manner, because there probably wouldn't be enough time to add onto a school based on how many kids are scheduled to attend the next year because this number might change fairly often without enough time for the school to adjust (maybe someone agrees to come back to the school by the notice date, but then later decides not to). Anyway, I think this system would be intersting to try for a while anyway, to see how it works on a trial-run basis, but might not be the best long-term decision (or it might be, I don't know...). -Carrie

Anonymous said...

I am usually a supporter of using markets in almost any situation. That said, I do not think the voucher program is a very good idea. Looking at Hoxby's three elements...
-While I agree that schools should be opened and should expand when demand rises, I do not think they should contract with reduced demand. All schools need to continue improving. Even if a school's enrollment drops, I don't see that as reason to allow its facilites to decay.
-Schools are usually more in demand because they have more money and can afford better equipment, teachers, facilities, etc. Funneling education funds into a few select schools would solve no problems. For example, some students at Wheeler want to transfer to nearby Walton because of Walton's better academic record. As places at Walton are more in demand, under Hoxby's system Walton would receive more funds. However, while this would further improve one of the best public schools in the country, it would drain funds from Wheeler, which needs them more to bringits own academics up to Walton's standards.
-While I am all for schools finding innovative methods of teaching, I feel there needs to be some standardization to our school system. Personally, I think teacher pay should be based on experience and demonstrated ability (raise for Mr. Arjona!), and budget allocation needs to be controlled to ensure spending on academics exceeds that on sports and plasma screen tv's in the principal's office.


Anonymous said...

I somewhat disagree with the idea of Hoxby's system.
It is a good basic idea when schools are private vs. public.
Those who attend a private school use the "vouchers" to go towards their.. well private school education instead of having their tax dollars go towards a public school that their children are not attending and thus paying for twice the education. To me that seems to be the only benefit because the tax dollars and "vouchers" are not very different from each other, and this way the school districts are still in place. I agree with Carrie's point of the number of students attending each year fluctuating, and this being a potential problem for keeping stability in each school. I think the whole idea seems filled with a lot of problems and gliches and most of all expected controversy between the parents and the school boards/government.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the points that carrie, andrew, and danielle have made before me, but on a different note, I also think that perhaps a key problem of this system is best seen when comparing it to another similar event. As a senior this year, college is imminent and although I am not seen as a total failure through my GPA and standardized test scores, that doesn't mean that I can attend any college or university that I would like. Thus, if a students had a choice of where they would like to go to school, the high school equivalents of Harvard, USC, and Duke would probably be overrun while the likes of Anytown University is left with no funding and no students. Without the opportunity and funding that comes with being an active school, that school will become extinct, and like Carrie said, the individual attention will be completely lost in all schools. If a testing system was implemented, then this would be more practical, but then again, the vouchers would be obsolete because the whole point was to give people a choice of where they wanted to go, and testing decides for the students where they will go. For a school like Harvard to maintain it's upright and fast-paced academic atmosphere, they can't just take any person who thinks it'd be cool to say they went to Harvard. Vouchers would be the ruin of the school system if it became the only way to determine where people attended school. If kept within the private school realm, then it could have a possibility of being a success because, like Danielle said, it would replace the double spending of private schoolers on public school education. If people can test into a variety of private schools, then they can have the choice between the Walkers, the Westminsters, and the Whitefields or the area.

-Kate Vanderlip

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the points made before. Also, I think that by making the "vouchers" than the schools will try to raise their standards and try to do a better job of teaching. Maybe they will hire more educated teachers. If there is a competition on which school to go to, then i think that the schools will try to make their school the best. I think that it is a good idea in theory, but what about when everyone wants to go to the same school. Some people won't get their 1st choice school because it will fill up. Those people might have to go to the other schools, where they might not get as good of an education and maybe not get into a top college.