Monday, February 06, 2006

School Choice is the Way

One more story, this time from ABC News, that shows how private initiatives to take at-risk children out of failing schools and into private schools has changed their lives. To me, this only underscores the need to allow true choice. It's great that private initiatives are making a difference, but we shouldn't need these. Charitable institutions have a pivotal role in a string of programs where governmental involvement is not only inefficient but cost-infeasible. And yet, in the area of education, state efforts are not always efficient (they tend to be better in the cherry school districts) but also very expensive - some $10,000 a student. Here's the part of the story that had me thumping my desk in support:
While a program like Student Sponsor Partners requires significant financial backing, O'Malley said the program actually spends less per student than public schools do. "Our schools spend about half of what is spent per pupil in New York City public high schools, [and] with dramatically better results," O'Malley said. "The problem is not the amount of money being spent. Spending in New York City has increased several billion over the last five years alone; the problem is how the money is spent."

I grew up in India, where the spending per student, even on purchasing power parity terms, was minimal. While there are avenues where I wished I had better exposure, none of those really involved significant monetary costs to the school. But that cheap education still gave me what I believe is a tremendous academic platform to launch myself. Every kid should have that platform!

Afterthought This is not simply about public vs private schools. I do want, for example, a student in a failing public school to be able to transfer to a successful public school without his parents being able to afford a house in that district! In the end, if properly implemented, choice should improve quality and bring down education costs (which are at present unsustainable). So the next time you hear a politician promise to increase funding for education, boo him and ask him what he'll do to improve the quality rather than quantity.


Anonymous said...

i agree. it doesn't matter whether a school is public or private. however, funding is so important. for example, right now i am teaching at an upperclass school where resources are right at my fingertips. this makes it easier for my students to learn because of the updated textbooks, the vast amount of computers, etc. on the other hand, one of my friends is teaching at a lower-income area. she doesn't even have enough desks for her students to sit in! resources are limited and the kids are suffering because of it. it makes me sad and annoyed!
any thoughts?

Karthik Narayanaswamy said...


Not enough desks - that's ridiculous! I mean, I can understand a school having resource issues, like not enough computers or inadequate PE facilities, but insufficient desks are indicative of rotten management rather than fiscal constraints (a desk doesn't cost that much!). But any financial issues would be quickly resolved by tieing the money to the student. If there's a sudden influx of students to a school, the school would have additional revenue that they could use to boost facilities. Fail to do that adequately though, and students will leave for other schools. Schools then operate like businesses - provide a quality service and reap revenue rewards. Fail and face bankruptcy!