The New Education Market: Examining the Early Responses of Public Schools to Competition. (from the Editors)

Education Next, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The New Education Market: Examining the Early Responses of Public Schools to Competition. (from the Editors)


After the September 11 terrorist attacks, President A Bush asked Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge to devote his energy to finding ways to strengthen the country's domestic security. Before the tragedy, Ridge had worked equally hard at introducing competition into Pennsylvania's education system. On the last page of this issue, Ridge explains why.

How will competition affect traditional public schools? Will they increase their productivity? Slide into passivity and bankruptcy? Turn into charity schools for the very poor and downcast? Shed responsibility for teaching challenging children? Or muddle along as usual?

No one can be certain, theorists have said, until a full-scale competitive system is tried in a serious fashion, on a large scale, over a lengthy period. This might be done as a huge experiment or simply as a forthright policy change. Cities might provide fully funded vouchers to everyone, for example. Or states might allow an unlimited number of charter schools to open, with enough funds to cover both operations and capital costs. This would facilitate the establishment of both individualized charter schools and multiple private companies with powerful education brand names.

So we won't know for sure until we try competition on a large scale. In the meantime, however, should we not at least listen to the first whispers of information emanating from experiments currently under way? Undoubtedly the hints they provide will be subtle and ambiguous. Much as weak signals from the outer realms of the universe are both hard to detect and even more difficult to interpret, so, too, preliminary findings about the ways in which new forms of school choice will shape the public schools are hardly definitive. Yet few scientists would ignore well-researched results.

So it is that we bring together in this issue the best of the new evidence on how choice may be affecting public schools as well as a robust, informed conversation about its longer-term potential. The carefully conducted research by Caroline Hoxby and Jay Greene tells us that choice--even the threat of choice-- provokes a detectable response from the public schools, Test scores rose when public schools were placed in more competitive contexts in Milwaukee, Michigan, Arizona, and Florida. …

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