Education Opinion

Questioning an Open Educational Marketplace

By Walt Gardner — April 09, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Wall Street Journal’s publication of a letter to the editor on Mar. 30 (“Free-Market Accountability Could Rescue Our Schools”) in response to an op-ed on Mar. 25 (“Why Freer Schools Are Better Schools”) cries out for a rebuttal.

Bob Schoolfield, who wrote the letter, is president of Let’s Choose Schools in Texas! He argued that there is a fundamental difference between government accountability and free-market accountability. The latter “provides for mutual responsibility, not entitlement.” This is the opposite of a mandate system, which is what presently exists in this country.

Fair enough. But then Schoolfield goes on to write that the contract system he advocates assumes “parents are responsible to deliver a child who is ready to learn” ... and “the school is responsible to teach the values and academics desired by the parents.” If either party fails to meet its responsibilities, Schoolfield writes, the contract terminates, and the parents simply move on to form a contract with another school.

At first reading, Schoolfield’s solution seems eminently sensible. But what happens when parents do not keep their end of the bargain and instead send a child off to school who is not eager and ready to learn? Does the first school have the right to expel the child? If so, where does the child go next to be educated? What happens if the second school is not able or willing to enroll the child? Will the parents attempt homeschooling? If not, what will they do then?

Critics will concede this scenario is unfortunate, but these children cannot be allowed to derail efforts to improve educational quality for other children who are shortchanged by the present system that too often locks them into horrific neighborhood schools. If that’s the outcome we’re genuinely willing to accept in this country, then let’s unequivocally say so. But let’s not talk out of both sides of our mouths.

I say that because teachers are not miracle workers and public schools are not Lourdes. Evan Hunter, author of “The Blackboard Jungle”, taught for a short while in the New York City school district before he went on to fame as a novelist. When interviewed years later about his experience, he said he quit because “I was trying, but they weren’t buying.”

Hunter’s words should be engraved over the front door of every public school as a reminder that education is a partnership between teachers, parents and students. It is not a business.

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.