In recent posts on The Quick and The Ed, Education Sector staff members have discussed the downsides of Romney’s recently announced school choice plan. Policy Analyst Anne Hyslop argued that with school choice, a student’s educational opportunities will depend on the engagement and capabilities of the parent, as well as the luck of the lottery. Under Romney’s plan, students with unengaged or uninformed parents may be forced to remain at low-performing schools that are not held accountable for reform. Furthermore, policy analyst Sarah Rosenberg discussed the prospect of increased self-segregation as parents choose their child’s schools based on factors such as the race and socio-economic status of a student body. With such self-segregation, more advantaged students may end up at better schools, while disadvantaged students remain together at lower-performing schools, no better off than they were prior to school choice.
These are valuable points when discussing the feasibility and effectiveness of school choice as an improvement model. I would like to offer a market-based consideration, as well. Based on economic theory, school choice is beneficial because parents will choose schools that are in line with their preferences. Additionally, as in the business world, competition between schools will increase the quality of schools, as lower-performing schools fail to attract students and are forced out of the education market.
However, the market approach does not fully extend to education. If a school is ineffective, it would probably NOT be “forced out of business.” According to the DC Public Charter School Board’s 2011 Annual Report, three of DC’s 52 charter schools closed their doors last year. And in fact, the board only revoked one charter for underperformance; the other two schools voluntarily relinquished their charters due to low enrollment and financial instability.
Shutting down underperforming schools has proven difficult since school is compulsory. Students who attend “closing” schools need to relocate to other schools, which is often infeasible due to limited resources and space and/or transportation difficulties. In rural or isolated communities, there simply may not be any other schools for students to attend. Most likely, students would remain at these underperforming schools. For this reason, there is less pressure on underperforming schools to improve than advertised by advocates for market-based solutions.
I agree that we should continue to experiment with the school choice market, but Romney should add an accountability and reform strategy to his education plan to account for flaws in the market-based approach.
Written by Education Sector policy intern Allison Schulhof