January 22, 2008

Give Choice a Chance

Sol Stern writes in the City Journal that school choice is dead and we should focus on instructional reform. Basically, Stern complains that school choice hasn’t been implemented anywhere, than argues that it’s ineffective because New York City’s system of rewards and punishments for students within the monopoly public district hasn’t worked. Neal McCluskey points out this non-sequitur and refutes much of Stern’s argument here.

Stern is right that it takes a long, long time to change the education system. Although parental choice supporters have been around for 50 years, it’s only recently that a few limited voucher and tax-credit programs have sprung up. That’s just the nature of entrenched monopolies. It’s hard to change them, and they don’t always improve when they first encounter competition.

Instructional reform would take a long time to implement, too. And most people would be unhappy with the results. There are big battles within individual districts about new math versus old math, and how best to teach first-grade reading. Deciding on one standard K-12 curriculum would be harder — and the stakes would be much higher. Right now, if one district adopts an ineffective curriculum, some people may be able to move out of the area. If a state or the federal government enforced a national curriculum, a bad decision would affect students everywhere in the state or the country.

We won’t get a system of parental choice overnight. We won’t have a "rich" national curriculum tomorrow, either. Given that reforming education is a long-term process, let’s go about it the right way rather than looking for quick fixes that will cause more problems.

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