Politics, Markets, and America's Schools

Politics, Markets, and America's Schools

Politics, Markets, and America's Schools

Politics, Markets, and America's Schools


During the 1980s, widespread dissatisfaction with America's schools gave rise to a powerful movement for educational change, and the nation's political institutions responded with aggressive reforms. Chubb and Moe argue that these reforms are destined to fail because they do not get to the root of the problem. The fundamental causes of poor academic performance, they claim, are not to be found in the schools, but rather in the institutions of direct democratic control by which the schools have traditionally been governed. Reformers fail to solve the problem-when the institutions ARE the problem. The authors recommend a new system of public education, built around parent-student choice and school competition, that would promote school autonomy- thus providing a firm foundation for genuine school improvement and superior student achievement.


By most accounts, the American education system is not working well. Children appear to be learning less in school today than they did a generation ago. Some 25 percent of the nation's high school students drop out before graduating, and in large cities--whose poor and minority children desperately need quality education--the figure can climb to 50 percent. On math and science achievement tests, American teenagers trail students from other nations--a pattern with alarming implications for America's ability to compete in the world economy.

More troubling still, these problems have stubbornly resisted determined efforts to solve them. During the last quarter century, successive waves of education reform have swept the country--most recently in the wake of the publication of A Nation at Risk--but, as a new century approaches, there are few signs of real progress.

How can government work so hard to improve schools yet make so little progress? in this book, John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe argue that government has not solved the education problem because government is the problem. They contend that the political institutions that govern America's schools function naturally and routinely, despite everyone's best intentions, to burden the schools with excessive bureaucracy, to inhibit effective organization, and to stifle student achievement. the book documents these institutional influences in an analysis of more than 20,000 students, teachers, and principals in a nationwide sample of some 500 schools.

The nation's education problem, then, is an institutional problem. To overcome it, the authors recommend a new system of public education based on fundamentally new institutions. They propose a shift away from a system of schools controlled directly by government-- through politics and bureaucracy--to a system of indirect control that relies on markets and parental choice. Although this new system is . . .

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