T Nation

Privatizing Education


In Milton Friedman's book, Capitalism and Freedom and I'm sure certainly in other places, it's been suggested that, since private institutions are by definition better at satisfying the wants of its customers, that education should be privatized.

To explain:

States spend upwards of $8,000 per child on education, and yet the system is still failing our kids. In many cases, private school tuition isn't even as costly, yet private schools tend to do a far better job at education than the public system.

What if, where possible (I'll get to exceptions below), all public schools were privatized, and instead, vouchers were sent out by the government to every high-school age child. The vouchers would be worth $8,000, and the student could choose any school he wished to attend. Schools could be operated not-for OR for profit, and would be forced to compete against one another for students.

- More efficiency (inherent in private vs. public)
- Teachers paid according to merit, not seniority
- Parents and children could attend the school they wanted to, with a focus on things they care about. I.e. Athletic children go to the school with the best sport program etc.
- Better education: private schools are typically more successful at educating than public schools, as the incentives line up better.

Exceptions and Rules
- In small towns, the public schools would either have to be highly regulated, or remain public due to monopoly issues
- All schools would have to be inspected/regulated to ensure they meet the minimum standard of education (similar to the way private schools are now)

The same idea could be applied to university education. Instead of state schools vs. private schools, just give all university students a voucher. There is no reason private schools should have to compete against state subsidized institutions - it's fundamentally unfair.



Since you'll end up with largely self segregated schools, it'll never happen.


I can't see putting any kids I have into government schools. I don't see homeschooling as the best option, but it's better than public school, especially if you live in a high-crime/low-achievement area.

Public education is likely to continue as it has until we have some sort of Soviet-style collapse. The teacher's union all votes Dem, so they'll never vote for vouchers, and the Republicans are afraid of being labeled racist for "de-funding inner city schools" (which is usually how the headlines read whenever this subject comes up.)


At the risk of derailing the thread, I am curious about the above. How exactly do you quantify a teacher's merit? How do you evaluate a teacher without actually sitting in the classroom for an extended period of time?

Any adult can look back and recognize his good teachers versus the bad ones, but how does an outsider do this?


...As if this isn't already the case?


I can't give you a complete answer - because surely the solution is challenging. However, if you ever ask a teacher in a school who the other good teachers are, they will be able to tell you who they are without any question. Students as well (at least, in upper years) know who the good teachers are.

A combination system that uses advice from students, other teachers, parents and testing would likely do the job well. I suspect teachers will be better able to solve this problem than me.


The quality of education has a lot less to do with the institution itself than the resources demanded by a student body in poor socio-economic condition relative to the amount available. The classroom does have to deal with the children that have the greatest amount of need at the expense of those who are in the least. Unless the underlying causes of that are addressed--which is an enormous task, for sure--moving from public to private will not solve these problems. Individuals could put their kids in schools that are more exclusive and they will benefit but it won't bring an improvement on the whole.

Approaching the issue from this angle is overly simplistic IMO. Unless of course your goal is to improve just child's education only.

While I agree that private institutions are often more efficient than public ones, I wouldn't agree that it is done without either exclusivity or a compromise of quality.


If every student now has identical resources, and equal profits can be made by private schools regardless of location, there is now and incentive to improve schools in shit areas.

That is, since schools have a motivation to attract students, they will create services to assist those with difficulties and various special needs


Will they still be open and honest when their pay is on the line? I guess, maybe, if self-evaluating is eliminated. There just needs to be more to the equation than peer evaluations. And I can't imagine it being a good idea to base anyone's pay off the opinion of high school kids.


Yeah, but we do bus kids all over, no? As long as the government is at least trying, we can sleep better at night.


Could not disagree with this more. It has not been my experience, or any friend's or family's experience either.

I send my kids to a private school, open to all, cheaper than public schools (ie per student cost), scores are higher, kids are better behaved. Attendance is limited to a fixed number because of space and resources. By design, the classroom sizes are smaller.

There are some trade offs-- we don't have the full range of extra-curricular programs that public schools, but that's not why the kids go to school.

Why is it that our teachers- NON-union teachers, get paid less, have fewer resources to teach with, and the cost per student is almost HALF of the local public schools, yet the school tests higher than the public schools??

One, the children are held accountable for their grades and actions. There is no 'special behavior' sessions-- the kids can be kicked out on their asses and they know it from day one.

Two, parental involvement is encouraged AND mandated. We must volunteer so many hours per child during the school year.

Three, more is expected than public schools. Instead of teaching to the lowest common denominator, the kids who need more help get more help and work harder.

Fourth, mentorship-- older kids are often mixed with the younger kids to help them read, write, and do math. The older kids learn to teach and the younger kids get the help they need.

Fifth, Uniforms-- do not underestimate how much mental energy is spent on keeping up with the latest trends and the cliques that form based on what you wear. That is a non-issue at our school and the kids love it.

Finally (I could go on, but I'll stop here)-- "Integration" is a non-issue. All our kids are equal-- black, white, latino, indian, etc. It's wonderful to see.

The portion of my property taxes that go to public education is higher than my tuition bill for my kids. All I ask is that I get some of that back via voucher or rebate (yeah, RIGHT...)..

OH yeah-- and my wife is a public school teacher... She's the one that said our kids will never step foot in a public school.


This is HUGE. More parental involvement alone would greatly improve public schools.

I don't have a strong opinion either way regarding uniforms, however I know of a handful of private schools that require uniforms AND require they be bought from the school supplier at a very high price. I think that's shady.


I guess we're fortunate that our supplier is reasonably priced. We only have to buy little jumpers. The clothes underneath, we can get from anywhere as long as it meets color and style criteria (eg navy or white polo shirts for boys, certain shirts for girls, etc).

We also have a buy-back program where the school will give some money back and we ship the used uniforms to less-fortunate kids in Haiti.


Some of this type of discussion misses the concept of bettering the nation as a whole. Leaving mass sections of population to flounder with a poor education isn't going to do any good, either.

At some point there is a collective consideration for the strength of the nation and it's economy... making is POSSIBLE for those that want to exert themselves to become educated and productive.

I know, I know, there are success stories from all segments of society, but throwing away any need for making it easier to get out crappy neighborhoods because some do is a false economy.


If you are told you have to volunteer it isn't volunteering.

Though, I agree, parents are typically more involved in their children's education when they are paying for it directly. In public schools parents do not want to be bothered and have the mindset that that is why they pay taxes, so someone else will take care of their children.

If public school was abolished parents would be forced to take a more active involvement in their child's education.


You're wrong about that. American's want cheap labor and they don't want to pay Mexicans to do it.


Leaving masses uneducated might provide some cheap labor, but it comes with a lot of expensive baggage.


Expensive to who?


Society... which we all seem to be a part of whether we like it or not.


We already have enough difficulty finding teachers who know how to teach. If we make teaching like any other job (no tenure, low benes) it damn well better pay like an engineering job.

Tenure is necessary in teaching because the subjects don't change. Algebra is algebra. So, what prevents a private employer from firing older teachers to save money? Do you want your children taught by a rotating crop of newbie 24 year olds? No one will enter the field knowing that they'll be an unemployed 50 year old.

Teaching sucks. I've been doing it for 29 years and it truly is a bastard. Try to get a room full of sleepy teens to do Trig at 8:00. Good fucking luck.

It therefore better pay like a motherfucker or have tenure, or no more teaching.