For School Choice, in Chile and Elsewhere!

In her second term as president of Chile Michelle Bachelet is set to impose significant educational reforms to further her socialist agenda. An estimated increase of 1.5-2 percent of GDP on top of existing spending is supposed to improve the quality of and access to (higher) education and thereby reduce the problems of inequality and segregation.

Bachelet’s plan to provide “free” college education to all Chileans exposes her ignorance of the effect of such policies in other countries. It is a statist’s’ knee-jerk reaction: once we’ve identified a problem naturally all we need to do is throw a bunch of money at it and have the government point guns at people, and the rest will take care of itself! After all, the Danish taxpayer is forced to pay for everyone’s college tuition, and they are prospering!

Chile_EducationThis sort of simplistic stance on education completely ignores historical and empirical evidence that shows that the voluntary system in existence before the dawn of compulsory schooling already met the existing needs for education, or that modern public schooling is a lot more likely to increase social segregation. The latter is confirmed by Chilean figures correlating people’s addresses, incomes and test scores. Besides, we already know that putting more power into the hands of bureaucrats in faraway government buildings, where we can be sure their views and policies will be heavily influenced by special interest groups, will invariably reduce transparency, accountability and quality.

In the United States, for instance, this has lead to a ballooning student loan debt that now stands at $1.2 trillion or some $30,000 per student. In three decades tuition fees have risen by 1,120 percent, meaning that the same college degree today costs 12 times as much as in 1978. The total bill ranked up on behalf of the American taxpayer stands at $22 billion per year, much of which can be traced back to the government programs championed by Lyndon B. Johnson in the sixties as part of his “Great Society”.

The modern school system is largely based on a foundation laid by Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century, with the aim of supplying his military with soldiers willing to follow orders unquestioningly. Should we be surprised, then, that our schools don’t produce critical thinkers and enterprising individuals? Is it any wonder how pervasive statism is in our society? If we were all forced to go to universities funded and run by Coca-Cola could we reasonably expect anyone to be critical of Coca-Cola?

In recent debates about education here in Chile we have heard some shockingly uneducated (pun intended) statements from officials, stating “we don’t know if for-profit education, selection or shared finance of schools and universities actually affect quality” and that “there is no recipe for quality”. The fact that these people are not only engaged in the debate but likely to exert If an objectively written book was ever published on the State’s involvement in schooling our children it might be titled “Government schooling: making every student equally miserable since the 1870s”. Should the Bachelet administration succeed in stripping away school choice the educational system will likely go down that very path.

As Murray Rothbard pointed out: “It is clear that the suppression of free instruction should be regarded with even greater horror than suppression of free press, since here the unformed minds of children are involved.” Chilean libertarians have their work cut out for them.


Why True School Choice Requires a Free Market

After pointing out the failures of public schooling here and here, now is probably a good time for the upside of the story. After all, given how broken the current system is, there have got to be better alternatives! And there are.

While modern technology has bettered the lives of hundreds of millions across the globe in many different ways, the education system has hardly been on the forefront in taking advantage of these revolutionary new tools. Which should be no surprise considering the heavy hand government has in schooling..

Yet the cracks are beginning to show, as an increasing number of parents consider homeschooling their children or free_market_educationat least sending them to private schools. Or, as a free market economist might put it; the market is starting to reject the public “education” system that persists in churning out ever dumber students despite rising tuition fees.

In the United States 73 percent of respondents to a public opinion survey said they support school choice. Furthermore, more than 6 out of 10 parents said they would send one or all of their children to a different school “if given the financial opportunity”. They also feel there aren’t enough school options for their children. On the other side of the pond, a UK government report found that “too many pupils drift, become disenchanted with school or get into trouble and drop out at 16”, and that “A large number of adults lack vital skills in literacy and numeracy”. In addition, British state education appears to entrench social segregation rather than improve social mobility.

Although no private school receives taxpayer funding most are still subject to the same regulations as public schools if they are to be formally accredited, meaning tuition fees can be very high. Consequently, homeschooling can be a more viable alternative for many parents. In fact, the number of homeschooled kids in the United States is rising steadily, and has been for several decades. Unfortunately not all parents in the world have that choice, as many governments mandate public education. And even those that do often find themselves under considerable peer pressure as a result of some of the common misconceptions surrounding homeschooling.

One of those misconceptions, and possibly the most persistent one, has to do with the perceived lack of socialization of homeschooled kids. After all, the theory goes, if you don’t go to public school you spend less time around other people, increasing your chances of becoming a social misfit. Still, the statistics don’t bear this out.

A 2003 research survey of adults who were homeschooled found that homeschool graduates are much more involved in their community, as well as more likely to be engaged citizens than the general population. Moreover, homeschool graduates were found to be more content and nearly all were glad to have been homeschooled, while more than 8 out of 10 said they would homeschool their children (74 percent already were). Needless to say, the above cannot be said to be typical of social misfits. In the words of the late Dr. Raymond Moore, author of over 60 books and articles on human development: “The idea that children need to be around many other youngsters in order to be socialized is perhaps the most dangerous and extravagant myth in education and child rearing today.”

The point here, however, is not necessarily to make the case for one type of schooling over another. Regardless of one’s opinion on what is best for a child’s development, the issue is whether the current system truly provides parents with options. Given the laws many governments have put in place to force children into public schools, the answer is obvious. Fortunately there are still some countries where government regulation is a lot less draconian. Nonetheless, the very existence of a public school system as well as economic conditions aggravated by central planning, severely limit school choice even in those countries.

And that is why we need a free market in education.