The Evidence for Free-Market Education Reform
At Cato-at-Liberty, Andrew J. Coulson and Neal McCluskey respond to Chester E. Finn, Jr.’s criticism of free-market education reform. This criticism takes the form of a quick blog post replying to a book review, rather than a developed argument, but his contention has been brought up by many people so it’s worth addressing. According to Finn, free-market reformers are trying to destroy public education based on crazy philosophies, with no regard for evidence.
As Coulson points out, free-market proposals like tuition tax credits are not incompatible with the ideals of public education, such as preparing children for citizenship. And Coulson has done extensive research on education markets around the world. I’m guessing that one reason people like Finn discredit that evidence is that it’s from other countries. Here in the U.S., the public education system has a tight hold on the education sector, and the only experience we have with a free-market system are a few limited voucher programs. People are then left to make judgments about free-market education from these programs (which are a good start, but not big enough to transform the education sector the way universal parental choice would).
Caroline Hoxby’s research on charter schools presents evidence that’s a bit closer to home. Although charter schools are still public schools, they face incentives more like the ones private schools face. Consequently, they do things differently from the traditional public schools. Here you can watch Hoxby explain why incentives matter.
In short, there’s evidence that free-market reforms work. And there’s evidence that the traditional public system is failing as Finn himself writes, the nation is "still at risk." That doesn’t look like a crazy philosophy to me.