TIME FOR ‘UNFETTERED COMPETITION’
“School choice is sweeping the nation,” writes Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal. “But school choice as we know it won’t fix the American education system.” What is needed, he argues, is “unfettered competition” instead of the piecemeal, “half a loaf” approach with which we are currently saddled.
Fryer alludes to the stunning groundswell of support for school choice in recent years. Since 2021, ten states have passed universal choice measures. It’s a positive development for the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation, which incongruously lags behind many of its peer and non-peer competitors in scholastic outcomes. As Fryer points out, the United States came in 36th in math and 13th in reading in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment. It’s hardly an adequate result for a nation as bold and innovative as our own.
Despite some encouraging signs when it comes to school choice, Fryer argues that our current system remains “more patchwork than panacea.” Against the backdrop of standardized and homogenous public-school curricula, a full-fledged embrace of the free market is necessary if we are to fully unlock our young people’s potential.
Protect The 1st believes school choice supports the full expression of the First Amendment. The First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion must include room for parents to choose schools that reflect their beliefs. Doing so will have the added, bonus effect of alleviating some of the non-stop controversies that so dominate the educational discourse of late.
Consider the endless arguments over textbooks and curricula, from the banning of literary classics like 1984 in Iowa to the “stench of animus” towards religious student groups in California. Consider the persistent attempts to incorporate ideological instruction for children as young as four years old.
With public schools having a monopoly on public education dollars, the only option for many who can’t afford private schools is to accept what’s dished out or simply pick up and move. More choice means more freedom for parents to guide their children’s education by selecting schools that align with their values, or offer education of superior quality.
There has to be a better way, and Fryer is correct that our current Balkanized approach won’t cut it. Advocates must be bolder, he says, submitting that if “we can fully commit to free market principles in education, we can create an education system that unlocks the talents of every student in our lifetimes.”
One way to do that is through education savings accounts, which he writes “allow parents to channel public funds to a variety of educational services, from private-school tuition and microschools to tutoring and online courses.” By funding ESAs at a level comparable to public schools, you give parents real purchasing power. Competition and innovation will result. That is the true underlying principle upon which school choice operates.
Want to send your child to a school that meets all the state requirements but is also a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim school? Want to send your kids to a school with a great literature program? Or one with more of an emphasis on STEM? School choice does that, but first you have to end the public monopoly on education for everyone to have those choices. And we won’t get there unless advocates double down.