Friday, June 20, 2003

Competition Without Consequences

Julian Sanchez, at Reason's Hit and Run, has an excellent post about why competition with public schools may not work to improve public schools:

Competition, Public Sector Style

The Washington Post writes that, contrary to what some had predicted, competition from charter schools hasn't visibly pushed public schools to improve. When you think about it, it isn't all that surprising given the ways in which this differs from ordinary "competition."

For one, while funding is tied to enrollment, the amount of funding tied to each student floats on the legislative breezes. More importantly, it's not clear how much incentive administrators actually have to compete even if their operating budgets do shrink somewhat. The school mentioned in the article dropped from 491 to only 178 students over the course of four years... but you can bet the principal's still taking home the same salary. Hell, he's probably glad to have less crowded hallways and fewer kids to deal with. And unlike many private firms, losing more than 60 percent of his "clients" doesn't put him in danger of having to shut down.. though maybe if enrollment dipped below a hundred we'd start to see the beads of sweat. Since teachers retire younger, on average, than other professionals, even flak from them can be deflected, since budget trimming can be handled (in part) by cutting back on new hires, instead of handing out pink slips. So how many administrators are going to go to the trouble of making real changes in the way things are done, just to be rewarded with a heavier workload?

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