The Essential Selfishness of School Choice


Say your friend Sheila invites you over to her house.

Sheila has just made a fresh pumpkin pie.

She offers you a slice.

You politely refuse, but she insists. She hands you the knife so you can take as big a piece as you like.

You start to cut and then ask, “Does it matter where I cut from?”

Sheila says, “No. Take whatever you want.”

You don’t like crust, so you cut a perfect triangle piece from the middle of the pie.

Sheila’s face reddens.

This wasn’t exactly what she meant, but what is she going to do? You took your slice, and now the rest of the pie is ruined. No one else can take a whole piece. Your choice has limited everyone else’s.

That’s what school choice does to public education.

It privileges the choice of some and limits the choices of others.

Advocates say parents should be able to choose the school their children attend.

And parents today do have many choices. About 90% send their kids to traditional public schools. Others home school, pay for private schools or opt for charter or voucher schools.

The problem comes with these last two options. In both cases, tax money meant to help all children is siphoned off for just one child. In the case of vouchers, tax money goes to pay part of the tuition at a private or parochial school. In the case of charters, we’re diverting tax money to a school that’s public in name but privately run.

That means less money for traditional public schools and more money for privately run institutions. That’s really what school choice is – a way to further privatize public schools.

Why is that bad?


First, it increases the cost and reduces the services for everyone.


Public schools pool all the funding for a given community in one place. By doing so, they can reduce the cost and maximize the services provided. One building costs less than two. The same goes for one staff, one electric bill, one infrastructure, etc.

When you start adding additional layers of parallel schools, you increase the costs even if you somehow divided the children evenly between the two systems (which hardly ever happens). You buy less with the same money. That translates to fewer services for the same kids, larger class sizes, narrowed curriculum, etc. Why? So that parents could choose School A or School B. So that privatizers get a bigger slice of the pie – right from the middle.

Second, each type of school has different goals.


Public schools are designed to educate. Corporate schools are designed to profit. Those are their very reasons for existing. It’s built into their DNA and is reflected in the way they’re administrated.

By law, public schools are not for-profit. They pay for goods and services, but at the end of the day, they aren’t beholden to shareholders or investors. They don’t need to bring in more money than they spend. All they have to do is educate children, and if they somehow end up with extra money at the end of that process, that money is bound by law to be reinvested as savings for next year.

Charter and voucher schools are not so constrained. Their reason for being is not education – it is profit. Where they can, they will cut services for children and reduce quality so that they can increase the bottom line. Even a casual glance at the news will show you a plethora of charter and voucher school scandals where privateers have stolen millions of dollars of taxpayer money instead of educating. To return to the dessert metaphor, they don’t care what their slice does to everyone else – they only care about the size of the slice.


Third, charter and voucher schools aren’t as accountable as traditional public schools.


Each type of school is supported by tax money. Therefore, each school should be held accountable for spending that money wisely. But the rules are radically different for public schools vs. choice schools.

Public schools have elected school boards made up of taxpayers from the community. Choice schools often do not. They are run by appointed boards who are only accountable to investors. Public schools are required to be transparent. Their documentation, budgets and meetings must be available to the media and community for review. This is not true of privatized choice schools.

If taxpayers are unhappy with the way a traditional public school is being run, they have multiple options for changing it. With choice schools, their only option is to withdraw their child. And in the case of taxpayers who do not have children in the system at all, they have no recourse at all. This is fiscally irresponsible and amounts to taxation without representation. This alone should be enough to make any true conservative withdraw support – however ideology has trumped logic and reason. Not only do they ruin the pie, they get to do so in secret.


Fourth, school vouchers rarely cover the entire cost of attending private schools.


They end up subsidizing costs for rich and upper middle class students while keeping away the poor. As such they create a system of cultural and racial education segregation. They create tiers of schools – the public schools being only for the poor, cheaper private schools for the middle class and expensive private schools for the rich.

This is not the best way to educate children. It is not the best way to organize a society. It entrenches social and class differences and builds in entitlements and racism for the wealthy. Surely our public schools have become more segregated even without vouchers, but that is no reason to make the situation exponentially worse. The size and placement of one’s slice shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the size of your bank account.


Fifth, all schools are not equally successful.


Though the media would have you believe otherwise, traditional public schools do a much better job of educating children than charter or voucher schools. Some choice schools have better outcomes, but the majority do no better and often much worse than traditional public schools. Moreover, children who continually move from school-to-school regardless of its type almost always suffer academically.

So when parents engage in these choice schemes, they often end up hurting their own children. The chances of children benefiting from charter or voucher schools is minimal. You can cut a slice from the center of the pie, but it’s likely to fall apart before you get it on a plate.


So in summary, school choice is essentially selfish. Even in cases where kids do benefit from choice, they have weakened the chances of everyone else in the public school system. They have increased the expense and lowered the services of children at both types of school. They have allowed unscrupulous profiteers to make away with taxpayer money while taxpayers and fiscal watchdogs are blindfolded. And when students return to their traditional public school after having lost years of academic progress at a substandard privatized institution, it is up to the taxpayers to pay for remediation to get these kids back up to speed.

Choice advocates talk about children being trapped in failing schools, but they never examine what it is about them that is failing.

Almost all public schools that are struggling serve impoverished students. That’s not a coincidence. It’s the cause. Schools have difficulty educating the poorest children. Impoverished children have greater needs. We should be adding tutoring, counseling and mentor programs. We should be helping their parents find jobs, providing daycare, healthcare and giving these struggling people a helping hand to get them back on their feet.

But instead we’re abandoning them. Most impoverished schools serving poor children receive less funding than those serving middle class or wealthy populations. In other western countries, it’s just the opposite. They provide more funding and resources for poor students to meet their greater needs.

School choice ignores all of this. If I may momentarily switch metaphors, instead of fixing the leak in our public school system, advocates prescribe running for the lifeboats. We could all be sailing on a strong central cruise-liner able to meet the demands of a sometimes harsh and uncaring ocean together. Instead we’re told to get into often leaky escape craft that even under the best of circumstances aren’t as strong as the system we’re abandoning.

And the reason is profits.

Have you ever noticed that the overwhelming majority of school choice proponents are rich white people?

Many of them own charter school companies or otherwise invest in the field. They aren’t advocating a policy to help children learn. They’re enriching themselves at public expense. Sure they point their fingers at union teachers making a middle class wage. Meanwhile these choice advocates rake in public money to buy yachts, condos and jewelry.

Make no mistake – school choice is essentially about selfishness. At every level it’s about securing something for yourself at the expense of others. Advocates call that competition, but it’s really just grift.

Public education is essentially the opposite. It’s about ensuring that every child gets the best education possible. Yes, it’s not perfect, and there are things we could be doing to improve it. But it is inherently an altruistic endeavor coming from the best of what it means to be an American.

We’ve all got choices in life. The question is what kind of person do you want to be? A person who takes only for his or herself? Or someone who tries to find an option that helps everyone?


110 thoughts on “The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

  1. I’d use a spoon to scoop out a bowl full of the pumpkin and leave all of the crust behind. Instead of a slice of pie, I’d have pudding.

    With publicly funded, private sector, for profit, opaque-and-secretive, autocratic, and often child abusing, corporate charters we never know what they’ll do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Because the vast majority of charter schools cherrypick the most motivated students from poor neighborhoods, their model of success is unsustainable, only possible because they lure the most educable away from public schools. What I don’t get is why anyone – from politicians to civic planners to the people who read about charters and believe the hype – thinks it’s okay to design a system for a small percentage of kids while harming the vast majority by stealing away resources.

    Charter supporters tell me that it’s great that kids in poor neighborhoods have options and that that at least some can escape the rowdy public schools. I get that, but as a matter of policy, it’s like treating a room on fire by closing the door and hanging out in a different room. I totally understand why the charter backers are in the game – they want to privatize all of America, having privatized healthcare and the military, the only things left are education and social security. They also want to suppress wages and win more elections by attacking teachers unions. I get it. But why would middle class people support this – especially if their kids aren’t the lucky lottery winners?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Economic analogies are misplaced and misleading when it comes to the management of community resources. The requirement of equal opportunity and protection under the law is not diminished by the fact that people pay different amounts to support the resource. My tax support of the local police does not entitle me to a voucher to buy my own firearm.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Several interesting points here. A few thoughts.

    First, on the cost of running separate systems, the economies of scale in education are very limited once you get beyond a relatively small school/district. We don’t have to guess about this. The state of Massachusetts uses 404 separate school districts to educate a bit under one million students. The state of New York uses 1 school district to education a bit over one million students. If economies of scale were important, New York City Public Schools would educate students at far lower costs or provide much greater services for students than is done in Massachusetts. The fact that NYC Public does not provide education at a lower cost or with much greater services than, say, Boston Public (at one tenth the size), suggests that these large economies of scale do not exist.

    Second, it is difficult to make any statement about what charter schools can and can not do because charter schools differ so much from one state to the other. In some states, all charter schools are run by the publicly elected local school board. In some states, most of the charter schools are run by the publicly elected school board. In some states charter schools must be not for profit, other states allow for profit charters. The statement that charter schools exist for profit is simply false. It would be true if the statement was that some charter schools exist for profit.

    Third, charter schools use a different model of accountability than traditional public schools. In my traditional public school district, students are not generally allowed to chose a school interdependently of choosing a place to live. This, of course, reinforces housing segregation even in my small town and means that accountability comes through the local bureaucracy. Anyone who has dealt with the DMV in their state might doubt the effectiveness of this approach to accountability. For a charter school, accountability comes from the student’s ability to leave the school, a channel of accountability often not available to students without the means to move to a different catchment area or school district. In addition, this section of the post once again ignores the charter schools that are run by the local school board. Arguably these are the most accountable schools of all.

    Your fourth point, that school vouchers do not cover the full cost of private education is correct. I think that if they did, the private schools would have an incentive to increase tuition in much the same way that increases in federal student aid to college students caused increases in tuition at colleges and universities.

    Your last point is undoubtedly true. Schools, indeed classrooms, differ in their effectiveness in educating students. Parents have known this for decades, usually moving into school districts with more effective schools, sometimes risking imprisonment for stealing school services by sending their students to a district that provides a better education than the district they can afford to live in. The most obvious evidence for this is to be found in the Normandy School District, where, when given the opportunity, parents happily sent one fourth of all the students in the Normandy School District on buses every day to a school district 30 miles away in which they had no voice in electing the school board, but were confident that their children would receive a better education than they would get in the Normandy School District. Do you think those parents would have preferred a nearby charter school that would provide a comparable education to the suburban public school? I certainly think so.

    Liked by 4 people

    • TeachingEconomist, sometimes I think you are purposefully dense. Yes, some states have more school districts and some have less. But that doesn’t change the facts. If the public is paying for one school, it will cost more to add an additional school. The same goes with everything. Yes, charter schools can be very different from each other. However, I am not asserting that they are all bad. They are allowed to be bad. They are allowed to operate without a school board. Not all do, but when you allow terrible practices, it usually happens. Third, yes parents can withdraw their children from a charter school – assuming of course that the charter was willing to accept that child in the first place. They certainly didn’t have to let that child in – unlike a traditional public school. But parents at traditional public schools can threaten to go to the school board. They can run for school board. They have a multitude of accountability measures that are unavailable to most charter parents. Moreover, you skipped my assertion about taxpayers who do not have children in the charter school. What can they do? Nothing! They are at the whim of the charter operators for how their taxpayer money is being spent. If you even lean slightly to the right, that alone should be enough to demand all charter schools be closed immediately. But whatever, ideology, right? Fourth, we could place limits on raising private school tuitions if those schools are to be eligable for vouchers. But that would almost make them public schools, wouldn’t it? It is quite a bait and switch when someone like Trump who educated his own kids at $50,000 a year at private schools, talks about a school voucher of about $1,600. Finally, you miss my point about schools of varying quality. The data is in. We know why most schools struggle – they aren;t being properly funded.

      Liked by 4 people

      • “We know why most schools struggle – they aren’t being properly funded. This statement in essentially true of all American schools, but it fails to get at why schools aren’t properly funded. Most upperclass parents don’t pay the same amount in taxes in proportions to their income than do people sending their kids to public school and they never will (unless a socialist gets elected?). Their money will never go to public schools and public schools will always need their money that would solve the funding issue. Public schools also have no endowments like private schools and can’t therefore grow money overtime and have money to whether tax cycles where their funding is slashed. Public schools don’t perform like business. No one puts their money where their mouth is and no one pays directly to public schools. They pay directly to taxes and that gets split up by some elected official that isn’t always focused on schools.
        Let’s expand this argument further though. If teachers were trusted to do their jobs more, wrote their own lessons and curriculum, and didn’t have to shoiffer kids to standardized test, then maybe just maybe they’d be half as effective as teachers in private schools. As Kipp Schools show their are issues with having a standardized schools system reliant on tests and bureaucracy that can be fixed without actually needing more funding. Possibly there isn’t a funding issues or just a funding issue, but maybe their is a structural issue and American schools need to be reformed.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Gunner, I mostly agree with you. However, I don’t think private school teachers are more effective than those in public schools. I’m not sure if you’re holding Kipp Schools up as a positive. If so, I’d have to vehemently disagree. They are guilty of many of the things I mention here. They cherrypick students, kick out those who struggle, etc. It’s not a model we want to emulate. On the other hand, I agree that public schools need reformed. We need to eschew market driven policies in favor of authentic education. But we can’t get anywhere until we have a more equitable way of funding our schools.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I would write this in BOLD CAPITAL letters and stick it on billboards across the country if only I had the power:

    “Make no mistake – school choice is essentially about selfishness. At every level it’s about securing something for yourself at the expense of others.”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I have been tutoring children from improverished areas for over twenty years. Great strides are being made both in public and choice schools. The wealthy attend private schools. Go mentor children in improverished areas. Volunteering as a mentor to a child requires only one hour a week. Mentoring is veryrewarding.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. While I agree with many of your points, you use a lot of assumptions and generalizations. Imagine if school systems approached individual learning that way! (Well, that may be a bad choice of words, since many schools & districts do approach students that way!)

    Not all charters are commercial or organized only for profit — but your point also applies to charters that don’t really offer a better learning environment and may have been created for selfish reasons even if they are non-profit.

    TeachingEconomist is correct that economy of scale operates primarily at lower levels of size; large institutions and corporations often have unbelievably high costs in relation to what they accomplish. And many public school systems waste an amazing amount of money over-structuring the environment in which teachers are supposed to teach and on standardized testing. (You might be interested in the article, ‘When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools’ in the Atlantic.)

    Traditional public schools do a better job than many charters if you compare on the basis of test scores — but that’s a silly way to assess learning. Two of the biggest reasons why anything so pointless as standardized testing has become so prominent: many people believe that the apparent precision of a number means that the underlying measurement must be valid, and some people make a lot of money by selling tests & test-aligned textbooks.

    Public schools may be designed to ‘educate’, at least in the sense of instruction — but many of them do not foster individual learning. If you’ve read Most Likely to Succeed, the authors make a good case that our schools (public & charter & private) do an extraordinarily bad job; that most students don’t retain what’s taught and what’s taught isn’t what they need to be productive citizens. I’ve heard it said that most schools want order, conformity, and obedience. (That seems more appropriate for a totalitarian police state!) I haven’t seen a lot of public schools — or charters — that choose creative critical thinking, developing each individual, and democracy.

    Yes, we have the ability to elect school board members for public schools, but that rarely translates into any impact on governance. The administration & board always seem to have a litany of reasons why things can’t change or why it has to be done their way. (Charters usually suffer from the same problems, of course.)

    So I at least partially agree with many of your points, but you weaken your argument by stereotyping, generalizing, and ignoring the many faults in our public schools.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peter, as you know, charter school and voucher laws differ from state to state. There is no way to talk about them as a national phenomenon without falling back on generalizations. However, they do follow a general pattern that allows us to make significant criticisms of them.

      Moreover, no where have I ever said that traditional public schools are perfect. A casual reader of this blog would see more criticisms of public school policies than anything else. I have championed the need to individualize over the urge to standardize at length in these pages. Teachers everywhere are crying out to do this and have achieved tremendous results within a confining state and federal framework. Let me say again that Public schools are not perfect and need to change.

      However, it is clear that the general framework of public schooling and its philosophy are profoundly different than the charter and voucher model. For the reasons mentioned here, public schools are far superior to so-called choice schools. Yes, some charter schools have elected boards – but they aren’t required to have them. Yes, some are transparent – but they aren’t required to be. That is reason enough to favor public schools. They say there were some benevolent dictatorships in history. There have been dysfunctional democracies. However, democratic self rule is preferable.

      As to economies of scale, yes sometimes big institutions are wasteful. However, this is not an argument for choice schools. It is an argument for smaller public school districts. My state of Pennsylvania has 500.

      Finally, I find it difficult to believe that you’re actually doubting the ability of elected school boards to govern school administrations. School directors hire administrations. They can replace administrations. They have total power over them within the law. If you are against that, perhaps you are in favor of One of those benevolent dictatorship I spoke of. Here we part ways.


  8. There’s only one question to me that matters.

    What is in the best interest of each individual child so they may achieve the best education possible?

    To me, that means giving them opportunities. And sometimes opportunities mean a different school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff, at least you’re looking at the effects of school policy on children. I wish more people would do that instead of worrying how they can profit from our schools. What best benefits children? Clearly a system that’s set up essentially to educate and not to benefit wealthy charter and voucher school operators. Opportunity is great but each one is not created equal. Much better to ensure every child gets a great education, not that they have several unequal opportunities.


      • After working as ESL teacher for several decades, I worked with students that had tremendous gaps in their education. My colleagues and I spent many hours individualizing for our students. Our goal was to meet students where they were, and take them where they need to go. Other teachers used flexible groups, whole group and individual instruction in their work. I would hardly call this a factory model. In fact, most decent sized public schools offer more “choice” of programs and options for assistance than most charters ever could. Many charters hire facilitators that work off pre-programmed scripts with a one size fits all doctrine with behaviorist tendencies. The value of “choice” is a myth. While a few students may improve their education in a charter, it is at the expense of everyone else.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff, I could not disagree more. That approach is solispistic in philosophy and harmful in practice. It is precisely the “selfish” aspect of choice education which the writer critiques.

      But perhaps it can be salvaged if we dig deeper. Perhaps the good to the individual child can be measured not (as is nearly always done) by immediate, short-term utility but by overall long-term benefit. So instead of asking “what will help *my* child succeed?” and only looking at which schools have the best metrics of choice, we realize that our children’s success is dependent on more than just this school year (or even the next few). In brief, are my child’s good grades in high school worth the educational wreckage that choice (in aggregate) will create? Consider further the cost I am forcing my (now adult) child to shoulder of a generation which has been de facto segregated, undereducated, and unprepared. But hey: it’s not my kid, so it’s fine, right?

      I would argue strongly that in regards to developing a robust public educational system, the common interest is in the individual’s interest. I am a public educator and father, so I know of what I speak.


      • Jeff M.

        How do you explain why all the top scoring countries on the PISA and TIMSS do not have vouchers or school choice?

        How do you explain why all of these top scoring countries have government run schools with strong, national, central administrations?

        How do you explain why these countries have strong teachers’ unions?

        And the United States, with a traditional public school system that sent Americans to the moon and built the strongest and wealthiest country on the planet, is going to be replaced with a publicly funded, for profit, opaque and secretive, child abusing, often fraudulent and inferior, autocratic corporate charter school system that is divided up among private sector companies/corporations with no central focus with teachers that follow a script written by someone who hasn’t ever been a teacher, or else you get fired, a system that has failed miserably in the only other two countries that ever offered vouchers/school choice at this scale, Chili and Sweden. Who is nuts? This is a sure fire agenda to destroy the United States.


  9. This is the basic socialist argument applied to education. Likewise, rather than having multiple duplicative private car manufacturers, have one public car company. Supposedly you have no duplication and no waste and the public car company is accountable to the people (via government bureaucrats). The cars are cheaper because no one is motivated to make a profit. And no citizen is stealing from their neighbors by trying to drive a nicer car.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is the far right anarchist view of government – anything the government does is socialist. It’s exactly what the wealthy want us to think so they can get away without paying their fair share. It’s funny how partisans playing this old talkingpoint rarely explain how they’re going to give up their own social security, Medicare and Medicaid. If you really believe this, find an island somewhere to live by yourself without government demanding you be part of a society. At its best, America is about shared sacrifice and working together. The founders weren’t anarchists. No one is buying this argument.


      • Steven, If we are going to have a valid and productive discussion, you are going to have to tone down your biases. The opposite of socialist is not anarchist. And a person can be a strong supporter of both public schools AND charters AND Vouchers. Look to the Washington DC city democratic populace. Over 95% Democratic, very supportive of public schools, AND demanding vouchers.

        You may not be aware of this, but the wealthy pay almost all the income taxes in the states and at the Federal level. It isn’t a measure of “fair share” but rather of “how much?”.

        I volunteer hundreds of hours a year in the local public schools. I also sent my kids to a private school (I paid, no vouchers or charter payments) and home schooled one child. Both will / have graduated from the local High School. The right place for the child is something my wife and are willing sacrifice for, but that doesn’t mean private == evil and public == honorable.

        I suspect every parent has dealt with great, average and horrible public teachers. It isn’t simply a matter of child fitting with the teacher, just as some kids don’t want to be in school, some teachers shouldn’t be in schools. Unfortunately, “working together” rarely means firing the incompetent.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Matt,

        Some readers are so far right that they define the most basic government services such as public schools as being socialist. If we are using such a broad brush, then the opposite is anarchy. These folks have been so brainwashed by Fox News and Briebart white nationalism that they equate any act of government as a socialist intrusion. Fine. Go live in a world populated by Mad Max and his futuristic hot rods. It is an extremist world view and I will call it out every time. If you don’t like it, go read someone else’s blog. And please take your bull crap narrative about horrible teachers somewhere else. There are bad school employees just like there are bad employees at any job in both private and public sector. Stop pretending like public schools are a special case. If anything, there are fewer bad teachers than in most professions because so many young educators leave in the first three years. It’s a tough job and most people can’t handle it. We’re easy scapegoats for all the ills in society. That’s exactly how the wealthy like it. They want to gobble up more of our tax money and the biggest thing standing in their way is teachers. When you unfairly attack us, you’re a class traitor. It doesn’t help students, it doesn’t help you, but it helps the 1%. Enough.


      • Steven,

        Sorry you don’t want to have a conversation.

        Socialism is anything controlled and owned by the state. That doesn’t make it bad, that is just the definition. I like socialism in some things, dislike it in others. In the US we all draw the lines in different places for what we like and dislike.

        I agree there are bad employees in many places, but in the corporate world you so despise, we fire them. Usually with a LOT of counceling and guidance to what they might be good at. You may not believe that, that is your right, but I have had to do it a lot. I do a LOT of work in schools. It is much harder to get rid of poor teachers than corporate employees. It is not treating education like a special case to comment on a simple fact. Few teachers are fired. If only the worst 3% are considered bad teachers, then clearly we are not getting rid of the worst teachers every year by councelling them out.

        I spent hundreds of hours over the past 2 years trying to get smaller class sizes and teachers raises in my district. You can make assumptions all you want, but they don’t seem to be fact based. Your posts start rational and then fall off.

        Teachers are forced to deal with many societal issues that society refuses to address. We all get that. We are increasing the social worker and psychologist ratios in my district as a result. But that comes at the cost of class size when we are revenue constrained.

        Every criticism of education is NOT an attack on teachers. Some is, some is uninformed, some is honest but debatable, and some is completely valid. If you attack anyone that criticizes, you are going to be left preaching to the MSNBC watchers and ignoring the middle and the right. Attacking those you disagree with turns your blog into a screed.

        Have a great balance of the day.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Matt,

        There is truth to much you say. However, it is simply false that bad teachers are not fired or even particularly difficult to fire. For every bad teacher on the job for a long period of time, you have a lazy or ineffective administrator. You just have to make your case. You have to prove that the teacher needs to be fired. And – here’s an idea – maybe try some remedies that don’t involve firing first. It’s a lot cheaper to rehabilitate someone who’s lost their edge than to find someone new, train them, get them experience, etc. When people complain about firing teachers, it’s usually a lazy businessperson who just wants to do whatever he or she wants without regard to workers rights. I have zero sympathy. This is a false narrative told by the media because they’re being paid by the wealthy. I’m sorry if I came off aggressively earlier, but there’s only so many media-manufactured talking points a hardworking teacher can stand. I’m in the classroom every day. I’m getting my hands dirty. I’m fighting the good fight. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the propaganda against my profession, my students and my daughter (who is a public school student).


      • Most of what Libertarians propose is both naive and selfish at the same time. They sell their selfishness as personal responsibility. That is how they can support a disinvestment in the Common Good. Just call it socialism, and lots of Americans will reject all things public and vote against their own self interest.


    • Pauley,

      Educating children is not the same as manufacturing cars. Children are not products on an assembly line where someone plucks off the flawed products and shit-cans them. That’s what many of the autocratic, opaque, publicly funded, private sector, often fraudulent and inferior, child abusing, corporate charter schools are doing, plucking children from their test prep assembly lines and rejecting them, tossing them out the door, getting rid of them as if they are a flawed product.

      For instance, both Success Academe and KIPP both do this.

      Educating children was never meant to be a for-profit, competitive industry. No country in history, except Chili and Sweden, have privatized and profitized education and that failed in both of those countries that are returning education to the non-profit, transparent, public sector where it belongs, where democratically elected governments that answers to the peolpe every time there is an election at the local, state, or national levels.

      Public education in the United States is not a government monopoly. A monopoly, by definition, was Standard Oil in 1900.

      There are about 15,000 individual public school districts in 50 states managed by community based, democratically elected school boards made up of elected reps that all live in the same community where the schools they manage operate. The schools in each state operate under education codes that came about through the democratic process in each elected state legislature and sometimes through the courts at the state and federal that are another element of our republic and democratic process.

      The Federal Department of Education does not make all the decisions for the almost 100,000 public schools, more than 3.5 million professional public school teachers that teach 49 million children. Most of the decisions are made in each state and each individual school district.

      Once the for profit, autocratic corpaote sector takes over the job of education those children, the local comm unites and the states are removed from the decision making g process that governs the traditional public schools in the United States. No longer will parents have a voice in school board meetings. No longer will voters have a vote in school board elections. No longer will someone living in a local communities have the opportunity to run for a school board position and step and take pat in fixing anything that might need fixing.

      Instead, from a distance, in another state, city, or country, some CEO/billionare will be making all the decision about how our children are to be treated and taught, and the foundation of those decisions will be based on increasing profits for the corporation. What’s best for the education of the children will cease to be part of the process.


  10. I see your point about school choice being essentially about selfishness. This blog post is put together well.

    However, I don’t believe that using this argument will change a parent’s mind, it will make some parents dig in their feet. It seems unrealistic to try to shame people into not leaving bad schools. Actually, what you call selfishness most parents see as simply wanting the best for their kids. When a parent is frustrated with an unresponsive school system, with teachers that are overwhelmed and underpaid, they’ll do whatever they can to get their kid out of a bad school, and they aren’t going to have a twinge of guilt about how they are hurting other children’s chances, because taking care of their children is their first priority.

    In the end, the parent feels they are responsible for the education their children receives, and while education officials pay lip service to that same responsibility, the kind of changes needed to make some schools better moves so slow, your child could be out of school before the changes you are looking for come about.

    The point that school choice hurts everyone has some merit, but trying to make people feel guilty about how they take care of their children’s education is counter intuitive. While I’m sure it wasn’t your intention in writing this in any shape or form, it still comes off as a little elitist.


    • John,

      I don’t mean to put anyone on a guilt trip, but the truth must be told. I certainly understand parents looking out for the well being of their own children. That’s perfectly natural. I’m a parent, myself. However, running away from the problems of our public schools is not the best way to go about it. It might help your child – maybe – in the short term, but probably not. Those problems you’re running from are more than likely to reappear at the so-called choice school where you’ve tried to escape. And now the situation is even worse. Even if you did manage to find a better placement for your child at the expense of others, what kind of example are you showing for your child? We, parents, won’t be around forever. I don’t want my daughter to think of me as the kind of person who didn’t care if he was harming other children even if in doing so I helped her. I want my daughter to remember me as someone who tried to do what was right even if it wasn’t easy. Isn’t that what we all want?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steven, taking a child out of a failing school is not “running away from the problem.” If you lived in Detroit, and there was virtually no chance that leaving your daughter in the public would lead to her being literate, would you leave her there? What if you were illiterate after attending Detroit schools but saw the chance for her to learn if she went to a non profit Charter school? What if the only choice is a for profit Charter school that gets less per child than the public schools do? The Charter schools in Detroit have a lottery and they can’t refuse a child.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Matt, First I don’t believe there are many schools in this country (if any) that are that terrible. I know people in Detroit – teachers and parents. They are struggling with strategic disinvestment. It’s not a failing school. It’s a school we’ve failed because we as a society don’t care about the students it serves. The only way to fix that is to fix the funding disparity. Making new schools that echo the same problems and increases them is not a solution. Anything else is running away.


    • Steven, the Detroit and Flint school are that bad. They have had huge investments after being run by elected officials that did a horrible job for decades. They have horrible administrators and teachers that in many cases have given up. A graduation rate that is horrible. I do a lot of work in Detroit, I think you are being misled by your friends and acquaintances.

      They also have the highest per capita student cost in the state. The schools are a symptom of the larger societal problems of poverty and crime. But the public schools and the charters are both lottery driven and the charters are doing better. Some of that is because the parents care. But the Charter student reimbursement is lower than the public school per student cost. The Charters are predominately in building the public schools gave up on.

      The societal issues are huge, I would suggest. I worked with kids that were the third generation that had never had a job. No grandparents, no parents, aunts or uncles, no siblings had ever had a real job. Without a culture supporting education, funding schools is necessary but insufficient. And, I would suggest, more funding for schools alone can’t make up for not addressing the larger issues.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “According to the Michigan Department of Education finance records for the 2015-2016 school year, Detroit receives $7,434 in state funding per pupil, while school districts in more affluent communities often receive significantly more. For example, Grosse Pointe receives $9,864, Birmingham receives $11,924, and Bloomfield Hills receives $12,004 in state funding for each student.”



      • Steven, that doesn’t count the $550 Million they were given last fiscal year to start over. The state of Michigan is the responsible party when cities or school districts have problems. It is true that when the state a long time back created the funding mechanism they screwed up badly. It was partially based on how much the school districts had raised locally in the past.

        The state covers many other expenses that aren’t in the calculation above, such as mandated social workers. The biggest issue, though, is that the state has had to make up for Detroit, Hamtramak and other districts not putting enough into the schools. Somehow, your source forgot to include that since it isn’t in the school transfer numbers.


  11. The last few comments have suggested the possibility of an interesting discussion about the different ethical approaches society (and perhaps parents) should take when looking at education.

    If you take a utilitarian approach to ethics, you might well justify sacrificing the education of some children because that sacrifice will help others. This is the argument that justifies not allowing students of families with involved parents to leave their neighborhood school for a choice school (be it charter, voucher, or magnet) because it will leave a neighborhood school made up of the children of uncaring, involved parents and that will harm the students who remain in the neighborhood school.

    If you take a Kantian approach to ethics, however, you would never be justified making decisions about one students education based on the impact those decisions would have on other students. In that ethical framework, the recognition that a student’s education should be treated as an end in itself, not the means of educating others. I think parents, when they choose a school district or school or teacher in a school are generally taking the Kantian view or the ethics of the decision, not, to use the loaded phrase, being selfish.

    Does anyone else think that this distinction might be useful in this discussion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Teachingeconomist, I actually do like this distinction. I was a philosophy major in college with a focus on ethics. Well, one of my majors was philosophy. Anyway, I would disagree though about Kant. The categorical imperative says “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, do things only if you can imagine they would be good if everyone did them. Looking out only for your child does not fulfill this imperative. In fact, it is just the opposite. A society of principally selfish people would not be good for anyone. On the contrary, school choice advocates actually seem to be appealing to utilitarianism when they justify their policy. They say that being able to select a public or private school increases the collective good through competition. Of course, I’ve tried to show how these assertions are mistaken regardless of their philosophical justification. In any case, most American philosophy since William James has been increasingly pragmatic in a utilitarian mode. I find it fascinating, but am not exactly sure how it helps us solve the issue.


      • Steven,

        I am thinking about the second formulation of the categorical imperative, the Humanity Formulation here (for a quick read on this, see section 6). We must not treat other human beings as simply means to an end, but they require respect in and of themselves.

        Lets think about a situation like the one in the example you give in comment indexed at 3:35 a.m. Suppose you are contemplating moving a student from school 1 to school 2 and that move will benefit student A and harm student B, perhaps because of changes in funding, peer impacts, curricular differences at the two schools, etc. Does the morality of the choice to move the student between schools hinge on your relationship with student A or B? Would the move only be moral if student B is related to you in some way but immoral if student A was related to you?

        You might say that the decision would be a virtuous one if student B was related to you, but virtue and morality are generally seen as being different, certainly that is true of Kant. I think one could argue that while harming someone close to you in order to help another might be seen as virtuous on your part, a Kantian might well claim it to be immoral because using your child’s education as a means to enhance your own virtue, even in the eyes of that child, is not recognizing the full humanity of the child and thus violates the Humanity Formulation.


      • Teachingeconomist, I don’t think one needs to interpret the situation in that precise manner. Working for the greater good treats everyone as an end to his or herself. Moreover, as a parent, it is better for children to be instilled with a common ethic than pervasive selfishness.


  12. In Texas, legislators are suggesting a $11,000.00 one time payment to parents, for each child. This would also include home school. So an illiterate parent with 4 children could receive a payment of $44,000.00. Then use the money to buy a car, computers, school supplies, (all acceptable education expenses) and keep her children home. Then 3 years later, when the government created agency finally inspects the household and finds the children are not being educated properly, they are sent back to public schools. Now public education will be blamed because these students are 3 years, or more, behind and they will cost tax payers 4 times as much to try and catch them up with their peers.
    As a conservative, I also disagree with more government agencies being developed. Money will be diverted from public education to investigate the corruption and stealing that will naturally occur when the government hands out money. This new agency will be huge to oversee and regulate the documentation and investigation of all the new charters and home school that will pop up overnight. Take as much money as they can and then declare bankruptcy and leave the students and parents hanging only to return to the public schools empty handed. Look at what has happened in Florida as a good example.


    • Debbie, thank you. I think you hit on an important point. Fighting against school choice is actually the more conservative position. This fly-by-night policy of charter and voucher schools is as far from fiscally responsible as you can get. Hand out public money to private business and let them spend it however they want in secret without any transparency to the taxpayer!? Are you kidding me? The term “Conservative” literally means someone who holds to traditional values and attitudes. Public school is one of the most traditional, time honored and revered institutions this country has ever created. Debbie, you and I are the true conservatives here.


  13. There is really no progress to be made on the assumption that societies live inside of markets rather than markets and businesses and all that proper parts of societies. Price is never all that big an object once a society decides that some good is vital to its survival. It’s really just a matter of who decides — the people as a whole or just a few. The latter is the case at present and the few have decided that price is no object when it comes to blowing trillions of dollars up in smoke over the air, land, and sea of this week’s most unfavored nation.


  14. Injustice and the ignorance that argues for it always bring out my ire. It is pointless to argue with market brains because they lack the basic concepts of equality, fairness, justice, and morality that it takes to grasp a common good and a just society. All their sophisms are directed toward rationalizing slavery.


  15. I do not get this Q And in the case of taxpayers who do not have children in the system at all, they have no recourse at all. This is fiscally irresponsible and amounts to taxation without representation END Q

    I have no children. I live in Fairfax County VA. This county has some of the finest public schools in the USA. I am delighted to support these schools with my taxes. I want to live in an educated society. (I also pay for prisons, even though I have no relatives that are incarcerated. I want to live in a society with lower crime.)

    I enthusiastically support school choice, even though I have no skin in the game. I would receive no voucher if Virginia instituted schools choice.

    Why is it “taxation without representation” to empower parents to have control over their education dollars?

    Individuals receive public tax money without their input on the decision. One example: I used to work for the US State Department in the Foreign Service. The US taxpayer sends many millions of tax dollars abroad to foreign governments and foreigners in the form of foreign aid. This includes military aid, and Food for Peace. The foreigners do not contribute to the US treasury, but they are delighted to receive the money. Is this “taxation without representation”?


    • Cemab4y, this is why so-called “school choice” leads to taxation without representation. It removes transparency and accountability for how that tax money is spent. For instance, when it comes to public schools, taxpayers are given access to multiple documentation. They get monthly school board meetings where their duly elected representatives must face them and explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. If taxpayers don’t like it, they have multiple resources including voting out the school board and replacing it. With so-called choice schools, this is not true. They are often run by appointed managers. They do not meet in public on a monthly basis. They do not have to explain their decisions. They do not have to disclose their decisions. If you don’t like what they’re doing, you can’t vote them out. This is even worse for people like you who have no children in school. Parents can at least remove their children from choice schools if they disapprove. But taxpayers without children in the system get zero say in what happens to their money. That is taxation without representation. As a conservative, you should be outraged.

      Finally, let me say that our public schools are not without problems. Much of this stems from unequitable funding for poor and minority students. We should focus on these problems and fix them. We should not be trying to create a parallel system that doesn’t fix these problems and in fact has problems of its own. America was built on the idea that we’re all in this together. Selfishness will not save us. Just the opposite.


      • I still don’t get it. If a person receives my tax money, they are able to make the decision. Example: food stamps (SNAP). My taxes go to the recipient. Then they can go to the store, and buy Cheetos and root beer. I don’t care. If a person gets an education voucher, they can redeem that voucher at an accredited school. I don’t care. if the recipient is not happy with the public/private school, they can withdraw their child. People with kids in public schools, do not (now) have this choice.

        If a person is unhappy with a public school, they have some alternatives.

        1- Withdraw the child, and enroll the child at a public/private school, and still pay taxes to a school they do not use.

        2- home school the child, and still pay for a system they do not use

        3-Move to a different school district, if they have the means to do so.

        4-“Suck it up” and keep the child in the lousy school.

        If you think that citizens who have no children have no say in a voucher scheme, you are wrong. All citizens whether they have children or not, are equally empowered in the specifics of a voucher scheme. I am childless, and I will be delighted to give all parents direct control in the spending of their education dollars.

        As a conservative, I am much more supportive of parental choice, and parents selecting the appropriate education for their children (public, private, parochial, or home-school), than in leaving the decision to government bureaucrats, and their zip code.

        I do not support creating a parallel school system. I do support having one(1) school funding system, utilizing vouchers and/or educational savings accounts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Cemab4y, you don’t understand. At some charter schools, operators have used taxpayer money not to educate kids but to buy a yacht. Seriously! You have no say in it. At others, they have used taxpayer money to run a nightclub on the same site. Again, you have no say in it. They can do whatever they want with your taxpayer money. You gave it to them to run a school – to teach kids. They don’t actually have to do that except in the most nominal terms. You bring up SNAP. Food stamp recipients are much more constrained with how they spend that money than choice school operators. They can’t use it to buy alcohol, for example. They can’t use it to buy already prepared food or go out to eat. Charter operators can give themselves a big raise and cut services for students.

        You only support school choice because you have only read conservative talking points. Look at what these schools actually do with your money. You may be okay that a charter operator in Pennsylvania used taxpayer money to buy an apartment and gifts for his lover. I am not. I demand that money be used to educate kids. And I have zero say in it because my child does not go to that school. It’s a scam and I’m not willing to pay for it. If you think about it, I think you will feel the same way.

        By the way, school choice IS essentially having two parallel systems – a public system and a private system. You will be paying for both. That’s what it means. If we don’t also increase education funding, that results in less money available for all children. These are terrible ideas only being proposed because they allow unscrupulous people to get rich off our taxes. Maybe I’m the only real conservative left, but I say no way.


  16. I still don’t get it. I understand that there are unscrupulous charter school operators. There is fraud waste and abuse. This I understand. I worked for the Federal government for 12 years. OK, so if a charter/private/parochial school is not operating properly, and not delivering education to the students, then the parents can withdraw their children. parents have no such recourse in public/government schools. They have to just “suck it up”. And, I maintain that schools run by the Roman Catholic church have less overhead costs, and therefore can deliver more education to the students. No one says that all charter schools are perfect models of efficiency. Some are not. Point taken. Vouchers/savings accounts give parents flexibility to withdraw their children. And home schoolers have 100% control over their education spending in their homes.

    Q By the way, school choice IS essentially having two parallel systems – a public system and a private system. You will be paying for both. That’s what it means. If we don’t also increase education funding, that results in less money available for all children. These are terrible ideas only being proposed because they allow unscrupulous people to get rich off our taxes. END Q

    This is a semantic point. Under a voucher scheme, there will be one(1) funding system, providing the parents with the vouchers. The education system will be multi-paralleled, encompassing educational delivery in public, private, parochial, and home-schooling. The taxpayers will be paying for one(1) unitary system of funds delivery, directly to the parent’s control.

    The per-pupil expenditures under a voucher plan, will remain stable, allowing for inflation. The spending (and enrollments) in good public schools, like we have in Fairfax county VA, where I live, will just keep on truckin’. When parents begin to withdraw their children from failing schools (like Washington DC), the amount per-pupil for the remaining students will remain unchanged. The student population at the bad schools will decline, no doubt. These schools will have to down-size. .Already, only 79% of DC schoolchildren even attend the public schools there. And this is without a voucher plan!

    I maintain, that the taxpayers will be paying for one(1) unitary funding system, but there will be a multitude of delivery options. And, I do not accept that education funding will have to be increased. This is a “zero-sum game”. I predict, that since private/parochial schools operate with less overhead costs, and more efficiency than any government operation, that more of the education dollar will reach the students, than in a government school. Consider the US Post Office, and Federal Express.

    School choice is the wave of the present. Nobel-prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, proposed vouchers, decades ago, not to enrich unscrupulous people, but to give more choices to parents. And to introduce competition, into the government/public school monopoly. Remember, what phone service was like, when there was a monopoly? (I am a telecommunications engineer)

    Please tell me, why some of the most vociferous opponents of school choice, most often send their children to private/parochial schools (Like barak Obama, and the Clintons). The rich, liberal elites, practice school choice, but deny it to ordinary people. Sometimes, slumlords are required to live in the slums they own. I would like to see a law, that every politician who opposes school choice, would be required to enroll their children in public schools.

    Lastly, I concede that not all private/charter school operators are paragons of virtue. There is no doubt, fraud waste, and abuse. One solution, is to require that parents who are recipients of vouchers must enroll their children at accredited institutions (or home-school). School operators would have to submit to periodic audits, and examinations. If the schools were found to be abusing their trust, the accreditation would be withdrawn. These operators need to be held to a high standard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You still don’t get it. Public schools give us accountability. Choice schools do not. If you don’t like what’s going on at a public school, you can go to a school board meeting. They’re required to tell you what they’re doing and to listen to you. If you still don’t get satisfaction, you can get together other taxpayers and replace the board. None of this is available at a choice school. The choice operators often don’t meet in public. They don’t have to tell you what they’re doing and they don’t have to listen to you. If you don’t like what they’re doing, the ONLY option you have is to remove your child. But if you don’t have a child in the choice school, you have zero recourse at all.

      Why is this so hard to grasp. Public schools are required to spend your money on students, in the open, explain what they’re doing and the leaders can be replaced. Choice schools can spend money on things other than students (and often do), in secret, they don’t have to tell you what they’re doing and you can’t do anything about it.

      If I was describing anything other than schools, you would be up in arms. However, you’ve heard conservative fair tales, many of them propagated by unscrupulous people like Friedman, so you believe them.

      By the way, overhead is not lower at choice schools. They spend much more on administration and much less on students. Moreover, the kind of accountability you’re talking about instituting at choice schools already exists at public schools. Additionally, Obama and other Democratic elites are NOT against school choice. They love it. They promote charter schools but not voucher schools because these schools violate the separation of church and state.

      Competition can be a very good thing, but it is not the answer to everything. It is a terrible idea for schools. In competition you have winners and losers. We don’t want that in schools. We want everyone to get an excellent education – not just some.

      The so-called school choice movement is a scam perpetrated by the very wealthy so they can more easily steal your tax dollars. Don’t be a sucker. One person says, “Give me your tax dollars to spend in secret and I won’t have to tell you how I spend it and even if you find out there’s nothing you can do about it.” Another says, “Give me your tax dollars and I can only spend it on kids, I’ll give you itemized reports on a monthly basis in person, you can challenge me and replace me.” You would have to be the most trusting fool to go with the first person. You have been sold on a lie. I hope you can see that. This is why the creator of a scam like Trump University advocates for it. He knows graft when he sees it and he wants in.


  17. Yes, theoretically I believe you. States in New England usually have smaller, established schools with better working conditions for teachers. No need for alternative charter schools or vouchers. Teachers are veteran educators and are stable, consistent forces who are well-paid for their hard work. However, where public schools currently are over-crowded with teacher shortages and poor pay, the public schools are like scenes from Lord of The Flies (Florida). I have a bright, sensitive and artistic child who has dyspraxia and a visual processing learning disability. The public middle school in Florida could not provide an environment that nurtured her many gifts. She developed an anxiety disorder, “school phobia” , and was house-bound for a year. We finally found an amazing private school that took the McKay scholarship (a voucher) for kids with LD to attend private school. The McKay voucher pays 25% of her tuition. For the remaining tuition, we’ve worked extra hours and drained her college fund. We’re doing what we must to have our child thrive and grow. She is healthy and happy 2 years later–even achieving honor roll numerous times. I can’t send her into a public school here in Florida or she would end up dropping out…I’m doing what I have to.


    • Parent Perspective, I hear you. As a parent, you have to do what’s right for your child. I don’t know your individual situation and wouldn’t dare criticize you for it. However, you must realize that even if you have set up your child for success, what about the other children in your community? Shouldn’t you also fight to get your local public school under control? Shouldn’t you investigate why it’s struggling? We often see in especially Republican controlled states like Florida a systemic disinvestment in public schools serving poor and minority students. We also see schools struggling to meet ridiculous federal demands placed on them solely for the purpose of profiting testing corporations and book publishers. We must all work together to fix our public schools. Building more lifeboats will not solve the problem. It only makes it worse for the majority of students. As Americans, we’ve never run from our problems before. I hope we’ll have the courage to face them in our public schools as well. Looking after only our own kids is just not good enough.


      • But it was, of course, an essentially selfish decision for parentperspecive to use a voucher to attend a private school just as it was essentially a selfish decision for me to send my child to take classes at a public university when the public school was unable to provide suitable courses for him.


      • The selfish thing, TE, as Steven and every person of good sense continues to make abundantly and repeatedly clear, is thinking that your debt to the community and the life we ought to hold dear ends when the purely private needs of thee and thine are satisfied.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What I see is this.

        The GOP’s Alt Right, tea party, neoconservatives, the libertarians, and the Democratic Party’s neo-liberals (the other side of the coin that has neocons on it) are all out for themselves and the hell with everyone else.

        To them if you lose your job because of market forces, lose Social Security, lose unemployment benefits, lose Medicare, lose a retirement plan if you have one, lose Obamacare, even if willing to work or working for pvoerty wages, becasue of those me first, greed-is-good market forces, you deserve to end up homeless and starving, because they see those people as a losers, and losers, to them, must pay the price and suffer.

        Isn’t this how the French aristocracy thought and behaved before the French Revolution, and before all the beheading of the aristocracy?

        We can learn from history, but the wealthiest most powerful people often think they are above history; above everything. I wonder how many people, who aren’t wealthy, who want to work but can’t find a job due to automation or US corporations moving jobs overseas, or who are working one or more jobs earning poverty wages, are thinking about sharpening their beading blades.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jon,

        What about my post suggests that I consider my debt to the community end when the purely private needs of the and thine are satisfied? What about ParentPerspective’s post would make you believe that to be true?


  18. TE, What about Steven’s comment suggests he was calling ParentPerspective’s choices selfish? Nothing, That was your distortion of what he said and we’re all getting a little tired of that tactic. It was simply another one of your endless attempts to make an issue out of a non-issue and to side-track discussion from the real issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jon,

      The title of the post is “The Essential Selfishness of School Choice”. If school choice is essentially selfish, any specific example of choosing a school must be essentially selfish. After all, if no individual act of school choice is selfish, how can the whole set of acts be essentially selfish?


      • I understand Steven’s title as referring to the design of educational systems. That’s just the way I was taught to think about things and it’s the only way I know that makes sense in the long run for all the people involved. The replacement of democratic, egalitarian social institution with a market system is designed to appeal to people’s more selfish motives at the expense of broader motives like what’s good for the society as a whole. Once a system is set up people will naturally make the best choices they can within it and no one can fault them for that. But some systems will fail in the long run and market systems that create vast differences in the quality of life between the bottom and the tippy-top are just plain inherently unstable. That is where we are headed and it won’t be pretty.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jon,

        I understand Steven’s title as referring to the practice of choosing a school as essentially selfish. My understanding of an essential property of X is that all examples of X have this property. If not all X have this property, it is not an essential property of X. What do you understand by the term “essential”?

        You, of course, know that public education as actually practiced in the United States has never been an egalitarian institution. Using geography to determine school admission has only served to strengthen the segregation in housing. Certainly the parents in the Normandy School District understand this.


  19. Teaching Economist, I think what Jon is getting at is your tendency to reduce someone else’s argument to an extreme strawman type position. You are ignoring that there is a difference between exercising any kind of choice in public school and the political policy of so-called “school choice.” For instance, when high school students in a traditional public school choose between Spanish I or French I, is that school choice? Certainly, they are making a decisions about which classes to take, but it is not an example of so-called “school choice.” Moreover, taking an advanced college level course through your school is not “School Choice” either. It is part of the public school system and open to everyone who meets the prerequisite. True, sometimes there are additional costs involved, but I hope you see my point. The policy of “School Choice” is a special case and it is essentially selfish – for better or worse. The fact that our public schools actually give parents and students so much choice before we even get to this crazy policy shows you something about the propaganda being spread about public school as if it were a one-size-fits-all system. It is not. The choice in “school choice” actually has very little to do with parents and students. It is giving charters, private and parochial schools the choice of which students to accept and how they can slurp up public tax dollars without being held accountable. I am always surprised that so-called conservatives seem to support “School Choice” since it goes against everything they are supposed to hold dear. But left and right are really just fairy tales told to obscure the real plutocracy that both parties serve.


    • Steven,

      It is certainly true that I take arguments seriously, especially when someone interested in philosophy uses the word “essential” which has a technical philosophical meaning.

      I certainly understood you to be saying that “school choice” is selfish, not choosing courses within a school. I have to disagree about choosing to take some courses at one school, other courses at another, are not part of school choice. In my case it was certainly not any part of the public school system. I paid full tuition for those courses and they did not count as credit towards high school graduation.

      I took the main thrust of your argument, however, that choosing a school was a selfish act by the people making the choice. I am not sure how you can make sense of your argument without understanding it this way. An individual can make a selfish decision, only donating a portion of their liver to someone they care about, for example, because it benefits themselves to have a person they care about live. A system can not be selfish because there is no self there.

      Perhaps you could elaborate on who the “self” is in the selfishness of school choice.


  20. […] The Essential Selfishness of School Choice – Gadfly on the Wall – Steven Singer  (10 minute read) This blogpost is not new and I am surprised that I did not include it earlier. This might be the best explanation of school choice I have ever seen. The single line, “You took your slice, and now the rest of the pie is ruined. No one else can take a whole piece. Your choice has limited everyone else’s.” cuts to the core of precisely the kind of “choice” that will become advocated with increasing frequency now that Betsy DeVos has ascended to head the federal Department of Education. What’s more, so much of the recent talk about “choice” advances as if there has never been any which is complete rubbish. Parents have always had options and Singer does a good job of explaining them, as well as the problems associated with the current bunch. The “choice” we will see advocated is the worst kind of aspirational con job, peddling the false idea that people will somehow be able to take the tax dollars associated with their child to pay for the kind of elite private schools that people like DeVos and other political operatives sent her children too. […]


  21. […] These are questions that have not fully been answered. It’s possible some of these services could fall back on other governmental departments as they did before the creation of the Department of Education in 1980. However, more likely this would be a redistribution of billions of dollars that used to go to public schools now going to private hands. […]


  22. […] Privatized schools are legally allowed to be selective. They can deny enrollment based on whatever reasons they choose. Charter schools may have to be more careful about their explicit reasoning than voucher schools, but that’s just a restriction on what they say, not on what they do. The results are the same. If they want to deny your child entry because of her race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, whatever – they can. They just have to put something more creative down as the reason why. […]


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