Friday, August 15, 2014

Another excerpt from the upcoming ebook

Another education thread that started in March of 2010 and is still going strong is the magic-of-the-markets/power-of-MBA-thinking line. This is one of those issues where I got the direction right but the magnitude wrong (I knew it was bad but I didn’t realize how bad).

The problem was two-fold: for starters, many perfectly sound business methods don’t work well when moved to an educational setting. The conditions, the culture, the objectives and the consequences are simply too different; to make matters even worse, Ben Wildavsky and many of the other reform advocates pushing the markets/MBAs line had a stunningly weak grasp of how business and economic incentives worked. The result was ‘business-based’ approaches that no well-run business would ever try. For example, if you follow the link you’ll find Wildavsky mocking Ravitch’s concerns that unscrupulous operators might use charters to extract “vast riches” from taxpayers.  For the record, competent business people constantly worry about being taken advantage of by contractors. Those who share Wildavsky’s attitude don’t stay in business very long.

To see what happens to Wildavsky’s ideas in the actual marketplace, take a look at my last Monkey Cage post.

Ben Wildavsky writing for the New Republic in 2010.

As for  claim that entrepreneurs see charter schools “as a gateway to the vast riches of the education industry,” that hardly jibes with reality at the most admired charter organizations. As far as I know, nobody at Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, or KIPP, all non-profits, is getting rich from those organizations’ notably successful efforts to help low-income kids learn. But if--if--for-profit charter operators are able to operate good schools, why shouldn’t those educational entrepreneurs get rich? Isn’t the point to make sure kids learn? It is not as if profit is an alien notion in the world of public schools. As Ravitch knows well, a vast industry of contractors, curriculum specialists, and the like was getting rich off public schools long before charters came along. (Ravitch also missed important aspects of the charter movement: its relentless self-examination, eagerness to weed out poor performers, and desire to take to scale those approaches that are really helping kids.)


  1. 2nd para on MC you have net instead of not

  2. Yes. Amazingly long documents are written by governments for road work, just because of all of the ways that they have been cheated in the past. Oh, and a sympathetic legal system.

    So if you think government contractors are guaranteed to be efficient . . .