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Moving Toward A Free-Market In Education

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Imagine if you could shop for your child’s education just like you’d shop for a new laptop.

If you were shopping for a new laptop, you would look online at the features to see if they match your needs. You would look at reviews and at what Consumer Reports has to say about the specs, the durability and the overall performance. You might ask your friends what brand laptop they have and how they like it. You also might visit Best Buy and the Apple Store to get the look and feel of various models.

We are all very accustomed to shopping this way for most consumer products in our lives. How would we respond if we simply had to accept the taxpayer-funded laptop that our state government determined was best for us? One store, one salesperson, take it or leave it.

In Colorado where I live, we are luckier than some other states because we have some choices in schools. It is true that some districts have highly rated traditional public schools, but that is neither universal nor the norm. Consistently, the schools that rank the highest in performance and college preparation are charter and private schools.

Take for example Liberty Common High School, a public charter school in Fort Collins, CO. They focus on a classical liberal-arts curriculum accentuating math, science and engineering. Every student is required to take 4 years of math and a foreign language. They have high expectations and achieve high results. Although Liberty doesn’t teach to any standardized tests, their students consistently out-perform students in other schools who are teaching to the standardized tests. Liberty consistently achieves the highest test scores in Colorado, and even broke the ACT record this year.

Charter schools are public schools. They require no tuition to be paid by the parents. They are part of traditional school districts and are funded by tax dollars. They actually have less money to work with since they do not receive any tax money for facilities as their non-charter counterparts do. They need to use a portion of the per-pupil student funding for facilities, yet they are still achieving superior results. Charter Schools are far from rare. Twelve percent of Colorado’s K-12 students are now in Charter Schools. With charter schools achieving such wonderful results with more efficient spending of taxpayer dollars, it’s no surprise that responsible and active parents are choosing charter schools for their children.

Private schools require parents to pay separate tuition in order for their child to attend. Does that mean that all private schools are only for the wealthy and elite? Look at the example of Arrupe Jesuit High School in North Denver. The average family income among the students’ families is $31,000 per year. Over 50% of these students will be the first in their family to graduate high school. So how do these families afford private school tuition? The Arrupe students work for a portion of their tuition through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program. There is a longer school day and school year to allow students to work 5 days per month at area partner companies. They earn valuable work experience and are able to work for a portion of their own tuition. The parents pay a small portion of the tuition, which may be as little as $100 per month. In addition, Arrupe partners with the Ace Scholarships Program, which provides families with the remainder of the tuition costs, through money raised from individuals and businesses.

The performance at Arrupe is astounding as 100% of graduates are accepted to college. This busts the myth that kids from poorer families are destined to squander their potential in poor achieving traditional schools. They have a better chance to succeed when their parents take an active role, and when their community invests in their opportunity to attend a high performing private school. Who wouldn’t want to send their kids to the best schools available?

If traditional public schools do not work to improve and keep the remaining parents happy, students will continue to leave and so will the public funds received per pupil. This competition improves the performance of all schools.

Although Colorado has more choice in education than some other states, we still face roadblocks from some in government who want to preserve the public school paradigm. State Senator-elect, Michael Merrifield was a previous State House member who served as the chair of the House Education Committee. During a discussion about charter schools, Merrifield famously quipped “there is a special place in hell for supporters of charter schools.” Why would a former educator denigrate parents who simply want the best for their kids, especially when the performance of these schools is better than traditional public schools?

It’s time to remove any bias against school choice, or against parents who are looking for better schools for their kids. It is not the fault of these parents or children who are left to deal with the sub-par schools in their communities. It is the fault of the obstructionists to progress and a better future for our kids. All we ask is to have a choice. After all, it is the way we shop for everything else.

Laura Carno

Founder, I Am Created Equal

This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. Laura, you are absolutely right, and so is Rob. Teaching was my third career (after social work and health care planning and administration), and Merrifield embodies the low-talent politically motivated “teacher” I saw too much of in both Texas and Virginia when I taught there. I taught high school, and was so saddened at the lack of skills in my ninth graders who came up from public grade schools and middle schools. On the other hand, the students I had who came from religious schools or home schooling were almost all way ahead of their public school peers. I think one of the problems with learning in public school is that teachers have to spend so much of their time dealing with behaviors and parenting students whose parents are too busy with their own social lives to bother with their kids. Example: my sister-in-law is a grade school teacher who chose to home school her son in fifth grade because she knew and didn’t like the teacher he would have had in public school. For his home school year, he did his school work in 2 to 3 hours each day and when he went back to public school the next year, he was far ahead of the other kids. That says to me that his teachers were spending 3 to 4 hours of the school day dealing with behavior instead of teaching. I don’t know that charter schools can make a difference there, because obviously parents who go to the effort to get their kids in charters are already involved, but if charters continue to grow as a movement, maybe the lesser involved parents can be carried along. Keep up the good work!

  2. Excellent, Laura ! I am pleased to see your blog. I will try to contribute from time to time.

    Freedom of choice in education is making progress. And the pace is accelerating.

    As we know “competition breeds excellence”. And “freedom breeds competition”. As we gradually loosen the stranglehold that the government monopoly (pardon the redundancy) has had on our “education system”, we are seeing corresponding gradually increased quality in the most important thing we do. Educating our next generation of citizens.

  3. Most American school districts do not have programs with greater rigor than school programs in East Asian countries. Why is that a problem?

    In Left Brain Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions on page 61 Rosenzweig illustrates this thusly,

    To examine the impact of a change in absolute performance on relative performance, I devised a Monte Carlo simulation to conduct one thousand trials of a competition where 30 Novice golfers and 30 Trained golfers take 20 shots (20 putts six feet from the hole) each. The results showed that 86.5 percent of the time – 865 out of 1,000 trials – the winner came from the Trained group. There was tie between a Trained and Novice golfer 9.1 percent of the time, and only 4.4 percent of the time – just 44 times out of 1,000 trials – did the top score come from the Novice group. The Trained group’s absolute advantage, a 40 percent success rate versus 30 percent, gave its members an almost insurmountable relative advantage. Less than one time in twenty would the top Novice finish ahead of all 30 Trained golfers.

    Millennials understand that they need coworkers whose performance, in absolute terms, exceeds the competition if their company is to continue in business and for them to have a job in the future. Quite often, millennials have worked with people from India, China, Japan, Korea, and other nations and also have observed them up close. They realize the stake. To stay out of bankruptcy, can businesses afford to hire people who have poorer performance in absolute terms since it hinders their ability to compete in relative terms? As a thought experiment, substitute highly educated Korean for Trained golfer and American minority for the Novice golfer.

    Only charter schools have the ability to say we are going to educate you and test you at the levels you need to work at to be competitive in todays global economy. Do not expect that from any regular public school.

  4. Well written Laura. Competition and parental choice will improve education for all. Having been in high tech the part you left out is that if you make a laptop no one wants, then you go out of business. Similarly, if you provide an education that few parents want for their children, that school will cease to exist.

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