With John Stossel’s recent report on the failure of American public schools, libertarians are coming out of the woodwork talking about the need for competition in public schools and the failure of public education. I don’t disagree, but there’s more to it than what they say.
If Bulgaria is stomping the crap out of America in high school mathematics, science, and foreign languages, the first question is “Why do their public schools work so much better than ours?” Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students don’t have a free market in education. Their public schools are whipping ours.
Secondly, there may be cultural problems underlying American educational failures. A free market expresses people’s preferences and beliefs; it does not change them. If American parents think that the schools are currently doing a good job, will they demand anything better in a free market? To overuse a common example, in a free educational market, a number of parents will make sure their children are ignorant of the centerpiece of modern biology. A free market won’t solve these underlying things.
It is true indeed that a free market in education is the only moral educational system, but let’s not kid ourselves that it answers all questions.