Understanding Market-Based School Reform
Herbert J. Walberg
Joseph L. Bast1
The Heartland Institute
The debate over the best way to reform public education in the United States has changed dramatically since we first collaborated to address the topic in the late 1980s (Walberg, Bakalis, Bast, & Baer, 1988) and even since our most recent collaborations (Bast & Walberg, 1994; Bast, Walberg, & Genetski, 1996; Walberg & Bast, 1993). Reform proposals considered radical then are now mainstream, whereas many ideas claimed to be best have faded from sight. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an understanding of market-based school reform. This chapter is divided into four sections.
The first section describes some of the events that illustrate the enormous momentum gained by market-based reform ideas during the past decade. It ends by observing that the rapid pace of change has left many reformers unprepared to understand or participate in the new reform debate.
The second section provides an overview of price and public choice theory, the two topics within the discipline of economics most important for understanding the theoretical basis of market-based reform. Most educators confuse the methodology of economics with ideology or bias. In fact, it is a value-neutral language for describing how an important part of the world works that yields testable propositions with