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September 11, 2002 1 min read
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The Market Model Offers Incentives

In their Commentary “Limitations of the Market Model” (Aug. 7, 2002), Heidi Steffens and Peter W. Cookson Jr. use the travails of Edison Schools Inc. as an argument against the market model in education. “In the end,” they conclude, “the market metaphor does not apply to public education.” However, their indictment is undermined by the fact that they discuss only one aspect of the market model: the profit motive. And even in that area, there are other for-profit practitioners (National Heritage Academies comes to mind) that do operate schools at a profit.

The most important aspect of using the market model to improve education is the incentives that come with competition. The only hope of changing a rigid, dysfunctional system is by empowering its customers to make choices that penalize dismal performers. The mind-set that “public education is a social commitment that transcends individual interest and corporate gain” enshrines the system at the expense of its intended beneficiaries. Instead, we have to think about the “education of the public,” which is crucial in a democratic republic. And we have to develop mechanisms that enable consumers to use our tax dollars in the schools that best educate the individual child.

It is only through the market mechanism of choice that we can get away from the stultifying and inherently unjust method of assigning children to schools according to their ZIP codes.

Gisèle Huff

San Francisco, Calif.

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