pictured: Milton and Rose Friedman. photo: Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Today CRI celebrates the 103rd birthday of Dr. Milton Friedman, a man who was ahead of his time in recognizing the need for school choice to be available to all children, so that more children would be able to obtain a quality education, suited to their needs, and not be forced to live in poverty merely because of how they were raised.
Dr. Friedman wrote about school choice in his book Free to Choose in 1980, and dedicated a full chapter to the idea that parents should be allowed to choose schools for their children. It was based on the market idea of economics- schools should not be seen as sacred government buildings dedicated to protecting adult’s jobs, but as forces which should strive to provide the best services to its “customers” (students), and if they fail to do this, then the school either needs to be reformed, or the students should be allowed to go to another school which better serves their needs. This choice should be allowed irregardless of the parents’ income, or residential zip code which too often constrains students, particularly poor students, in poorly performing schools with no way out.
Advocates of public education for all will insist that education should not be “privatized” and left to the evils of “capitalism.” Yet notice how upper-middle class and upper-class families handle their children’s’ education- private schools, charter schools such as the Charter School of Wilmington, home school, boarding school (for the very wealthy), or top-performing public schools. Notice how wealthier families do not feel the need to be constrained by zip code? There is a reason for this. Despite bluster by opponents of parental choice about how “privatization” is evil, rich parents will choose that option because the school must compete for the parent’s tuition dollars. If the school performs poorly, or does not serve the child’s needs, the child will be removed from the school.
When a similar situation happens in public school, teacher’s union leaders, superintendents, and local politicians wax poetic about the need for more “investment.” Never mind that Delaware spends $23,000 a year per student. But, teachers in Delaware earn roughly $59,000 a year minus benefits. Clearly, most of the money spent per pupil doesn’t pay teachers, even as debates over raising teacher’s pay are played out in districts around the country. Where is this money going? Wherever it is, expect those getting this extra funding to fight back against any efforts to take their money away, no matter how weak their justification for more “investment” is.
The poor performance of too many public schools causes parents with the means to do so to pull their kids out of public school. The kids who are left are usually poor, come from dysfunctional homes or impoverished neighborhoods, and are not offered a clear pathway to success. Combined with the influx of new students coming from recently arriving immigrant families, many of whom live in homes where English is not the first language, and an endless number of “Visions”, mandates, and standardized tests, these schools are not going to be in position to best help the children.
The goal of school choice is not, as our opponents allege, to “dismantle” public education or somehow sell it to multinational corporations. The goal is to merely go back to basic principles of greed, ambition, and what motivates us. Monopolies, by definition (which is how a lot of public school districts are operated, especially in low-income areas), nearly always provide poor quality, high prices, and poor customer service, because the human need to do better falls flat when there is no reward for doing so. We do not suggest people intentionally fail or desire to see kids suffer, because we know the vast majority of teachers, counselors, principals, and other building staff sincerely want to see children do well. In fact, teachers and counselors, especially in private schools, make very little money because teaching is their passion. They know they will never get rich teaching or advising.
The problem is, there is a system in place which has made too many people too comfortable, too dependent on the system to continue, and too unwilling to consider alternatives out of fear of what might happen if there are serious changes to the status quo.
We point out that teens and young adults around the country choose colleges or learning institutions right for them. If the school is not a match, the student leaves and goes elsewhere, or goes to work or to the military. Federal student loans are offered to students who go to private colleges which compete with public ones. Yet public schools are still very much around. Clearly school choice for college has not destroyed public education, and it will not destroy public education in K-12. All that will happen is, some people who believe they have a guaranteed job might lose it unless they are pressured into the marketplace of ideas.
All this was Dr. Friedman’s vision: great schools for all, and a vision of the best, most competitive education system serving student’s needs, the way colleges compete. Today we honor a man whose foresight has inspired the rest of us to see nothing less than a great system of education, improving the economic opportunities of all students no matter their household income, neighborhood, or learning challenges.
Here’s to you, Dr. Friedman.
“Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that — a system of free choice — we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
— CNBC Interview Transcript, March 2003
“It is only the tyranny of the status quo that leads us to take it for granted that in schooling, government monopoly is the best way for the government to achieve its objective.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” January 2004
“Improved education is offering a hope of narrowing the gap between the less and more skilled workers, of fending off the prior prospect of a society divided between the “haves” and “have nots,” of a class society in which an educated elite provided welfare for a permanent class of unemployables.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” July 1998