Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Some context on schools and the magic of the markets

One reason emotions run so hot in the current debate is that the always heated controversies of education have somehow become intertwined with sensitive points of economic philosophy. The discussion over child welfare and opportunity has been rewritten as an epic struggle between big government and unions on one hand and markets and entrepreneurs on the other. (insert Lord of the Rings reference here)

When Ben Wildavsky said "Perhaps most striking to me as I read Death and Life was Ravitch’s odd aversion to, even contempt for, market economics and business as they relate to education" he wasn't wasting his time on a minor aspect of the book; he was focusing on the fundamental principle of the debate.

The success or even the applicability of business metrics and mission statements in education is a topic for another post, but the subject does remind me of a presentation the head of the education department gave when I was getting my certification in the late Eighties. He showed us a video of Tom Peter's discussing In Search of Excellence then spent about an hour extolling Peters ideas.

(on a related note, I don't recall any of my education classes mentioning George Polya)

I can't say exactly when but by 1987 business-based approaches were the big thing in education and had been for quite a while, a movement that led to the introduction of charter schools at the end of the decade. And the movement has continued to this day.

In other words, American schools have been trying a free market/business school approach for between twenty-five and thirty years.

I'm not going to say anything here about the success or failure of those efforts, but it is worth putting in context.

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