Supply and Demand in Education
Edspresso links to this American Thinker essay about the causes of student achievement. The author, Robert Weissberg, contends that choice reforms like charter schools or tuition tax credits will not solve America’s education problems. When parents want their children to succeed academically, they take advantage of the vast market supplying books and tutoring, many of which products and services are reasonably priced. So, Weissberg says, if parents and students don’t seek out academic help after school, they’re unmotivated and no improvements in supply will help them.
It’s true that the education market isn’t limited to schools. But Weissberg’s reasoning contains a fundamental flaw: He does not acknowledge that information is costly. Wealthy, educated parents are more likely to provide their children with books and tutoring because they know about those resources and how their children will benefit. An illiterate parent won’t be able to read advertisements for tutoring, and is probably surrounded by other people who don’t hire tutors. Even when that parent finds out about a free after-school tutoring program, he may not have enough information to judge how tutoring will improve his child’s chances in life.
The illiterate parent is an extreme example. However, the same idea applies to parents with a little more education and wealth. Parents give their kids the educational opportunities they know about and can afford. Many parents think that education just means “school,” so they look to charter schools but not extra books or tutoring. (One of the goals of parental choice advocates should be to give parents access to information about different kinds of education, beyond the in-school variety.)
Weissberg is right that we shouldn’t count on the government to fix education or improve achievement. His error lies in assuming that the current market provides a free flow of information to parents.