In a recent poll by Gallup, more than half of respondents thought charter schools were private, could charge tuition, could have admissions standards, and/or taught some sort of religious values. ALL WRONG! Support for them is increasing, according to the same poll, but the general public’s knowledge of them is shockingly off.

For those who don’t know, charter schools:

  • Cannot charge tuition. They are publicly funded, on average spending 70% of traditional public schools.
  • Have just as much difficulty expelling students as traditional public schools.
  • Have randomized lotteries for admission, so no ability-based admission is permissible.
  • Cannot be religiously affiliated.

Charter schools are public in that they can’t choose whom they admit and use taxpayer dollars. They differ from most public schools because they are run by private organizations that are free from many regulations that hold back public schools. Their teachers are also often not unionized.

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At some point, the young people become the old people, and the old people die.

An accomplished man, Paul Krugman has won a nobel prize, become a superstar economist with his column in the New York Times, blamed Bush for all of the world’s ills, and reminded me just a little bit of Saddam Hussein. He has been a very respectable voice to the economic arguments against libertarian assumptions and approaches to the economy. But sometimes, in an effort to boost his progressive views, he embraces government works a little too much.

newman-seinfeld-post-office

In a blog post a few days ago, Krugman defends the DMV and post office as government operations that can work well. He says that the bad wrap the post office gets for being a bureaucratic nightmare is unfair when, in his experience, it has been pleasant and cheap. I’ll give the cheap thing to him. Our first class stamps are cheaper than pretty much anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, does anyone seriously think the DMV is an efficiently run enterprise, with the small number of locations, long lines, and grumpy service?

And how are we to know how good things could be if there wasn’t a legally enforced monopoly on snail mail? I bet everyone marveled when the post office could deliver packages in x amount of time for y dollars. But then, when UPS and FedEx bust out on the scene and gave the Post Office competition, it went even faster and did it even cheaper. If the Post Office is so great, let it stand the competition of other firms. There’s no way to tell for sure what the post office would be like if it was opened up to some competition, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t hurt.

Update: Tyler Cowen talks more about the post office, especially in regards to “innovation that might have been.” And here.

The legendary man would have been 97 years old today.

The following is an op-ed I wrote for the Koch Fellowship about school choice being the best way to capture the immeasurable aspects of education that bureaucrats, standardized tests, and old men at Harvard can’t objectively figure out. School choice isn’t perfect, I know. But I had a word limit, so bear with me:

Perhaps teachers’ unions are correct to say that standardized tests are poor measures of teachers, schools, and student achievement, but there is a way to hold schools accountable and judge whether a school is delivering on the essential immeasurable areas: school choice. There’s no need for a “standardized” way of assessing schools if parents get to make their own measurements and choose accordingly.

The rationale behind school choice is simple. When given the choice of different options for schools, parents will choose schools that succeed. The schools either satisfy their customers and stay in business or fail to deliver the goods and shut down.

Teachers’ unions and education traditionalists point to studies showing the (allegedly) inconclusive effects on achievement of charter schools and vouchers. Aren’t these the same standardized tests the traditionalists say can’t be used to measure teacher effectiveness? The scores of certain charters and vouchers may be lower than those in nearby public schools, but look at the parents who are sending those kids to the “choice” schools. The popularity of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the program’s participants shows the popularity that choice brings. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in a study looking at the opinions of minorities towards vouchers, found that “70 percent of blacks earning annual incomes less than $15,000 support vouchers for use at private and religious schools.” No matter what standardized tests say about the success of certain schools, isn’t the popularity of the schools among their respective parents the best way to truly measure their success?

Consider the market for automobiles. There is no measurable way to assess the ‘goodness’ of a car. Some people value fuel efficiency. Others value horsepower, stereo system, leather seats, trunk space, or sheer size. So how do we tell which car is the best? We don’t. Because people value different things, we give them different choices and everyone is happier compared to if we just had one one-size-fits-all automobile. Sure, sometimes cars turn out to be lemons, have a short lifespan, or are unsafe. But after a while, people come to realize the good cars from the bad and the good ones stay in business.

Now compare this to K-12 education. Some parents prioritize raising their kids with an opportunity to play scholastic sports. Others just want their child to be safe, feel welcome in a community, establish curiosity about the world, or be raised with religious values. For this reason, the colleges we can choose from are big and small, religious and secular, liberal arts and vocational, diverse and homogenous, conservative and liberal, party schools and dry schools. Someone at Brigham Young doesn’t care how well Berkeley’s students do on a standardized test because Brigham Young’s students value different aspects of a college. The same subjective valuing applies to K-12 schools. Why should we try to have a one-size-fits-all K-12 education system? Public schools can have corrupt administrators, poorly manage their funds, or have an ineffective curriculum. But because parents often have little choice, unlike the market for automobiles, bad public schools often don’t go out of business. In fact, they frequently get more money.

As long as parents are, on the whole, more satisfied with the charters or voucher schools they send their kids, doesn’t that make them a success? Let’s expand choice and allow the parents to decide what’s best for their children.