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A Closer Look at the Education Marketplace

By Walt Gardner — January 06, 2017 1 min read

Critics of public education invariably urge the establishment of an open marketplace as a solution (“Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don’t Buy It,” The New York Times, Jan. 1). But the idea of running schools like a business is a contradiction in terms.

Here’s why: Public schools have to admit all who show up at their doors regardless of ability or motivation. Businesses do not. Public schools cannot fire those who are late, perform poorly or are disruptive. Businesses can. Public schools rarely fire failing teachers. Businesses can, but those executives walk away with lucrative compensation packages that teachers do not.

In short, if public schools were truly allowed to operate like businesses, then perhaps a case could be made. I know what critics are going to say. What about the success of charter schools? Although they are publicly funded, charters are exempt from most of the rules governing traditional public schools. As a result, comparing the two is an exercise in futility.

The argument that competition is the solution is even more absurd. How can traditional public schools compete with charter, private or religious schools that can legally admit and push out students they don’t want for one reason or another?

But there’s another part of the deregulation argument that is given short shrift. Competition was supposed to improve consumer satisfaction in the airlines, banking, cable TV and other industries. If so, why are customers so disaffected? I don’t know anyone who is happy with the present state of affairs in these industries. If that’s the case, why would things be any better in education?

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.