Rating Schools in Britain
I came across this story by way of the Panama City Renaissance School blog. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested that parents should rate schools, and their opinions be used to expand some schools and close others.
This article is an instructive example of how parental choice is more accepted in European countries than it is here. Britain’s education system is far from a free market, but parents do have choices. Take a look at this sentence (emphasis mine):
Under the plans, if parents are dissatisfied and too many are missing out on their first choice in the admissions process, councils will be forced to expand the number of places at the most popular schools, open new schools, or change the management of those that are struggling.
In the British education system, parents choose between different schools that are financed completely or partially by the state. (Partially financed schools may charge parents for room and board, or for religious courses, but still receive state money to teach the national curriculum.) As happens in U.S. charter school lotteries, parents don’t always get their first choice of school.
It’s striking how this choice is so normal in Britain that parents can complain that they didn’t get their first choice. In the United States, charter school lotteries take place only in the individual cities that have charters — when the political constellations align to give parents any alternative to their assigned schools. We don’t hear a lot of complaints about first or second choices here, because the ability to choose is so unusual. Choice advocates regard it as a victory when parents get to enter a lottery at all.
Although Britain’s education system incorporates more choice, British politicians have not abandoned their characteristic aversion to markets:
Brown attacked Tory plans to introduce a Swedish-style market in education, where schools compete for pupils and are allowed to profit under a voucher system. […]
He said: “A market free-for-all would fail because, as some schools go under slowly as competitors overtake them, children in those weaker schools would be left behind. A whole generation failed – waiting for the market to work.”
The idea that competition leaves children in failing schools for generations, while the political process improves schools in the blink of eye, is laughable. We observe the opposite: Vested interests keep the worst state schools going despite a consensus that they’re terrible. And, under market competition, bad schools are forced to change or close, because otherwise their support dries up.