The economics of education

Jay Greene Jonathan Butcher uses a passage from an article in the Economist as getting off point for education reform. The article characterizes the cell phone as “the single most transformative tool for development” and attributes its spread to underdeveloped countries, in part, to the “spread of mobile phones in the developed world.”

Greene finds support for this in the theories of Hayak, who argued lagging societies advance more quickly if front runners are allowed to innovate and pull ahead:

The over-all speed of advance will be increased by those who move fastest. Even if many fall behind at first, the cumulative effect of the preparation of the path will, before long, sufficiently facilitate their advance that they will be able to keep their place in the march.

This is why the “poor” in America are able to enjoy luxuries that only the very rich had access to a couple of generations ago: air conditioning, cell phones, microwaves, color televisions, cable TV, answering machines, the internet, etc.

The same is true of education, Greene argues:

It is not just tax policy or legislation pertaining to businesses to which this idea applies; other social programs can be improved in the same way, and education is no exception. Charter schools are an excellent example of a public policy that promotes individual liberty and entrepreneurship—resulting in the creation of new ideas that can then be used widely.

Everywhere charters have spread, the new ideas on leadership and teaching, for example, that they carry with them have been copied. Even those opposed to charter schools have decided to combat them using the charter concept. For example, Pilot Schools were created in Boston by existing school leaders in response to charter schools, using concepts central to the charter movement (more freedom over administrative decision making, specialized mission statements, etc.). The result is that parents have even more options than before—more schools to chose from and more freedom.

Yep, exactly.

The free market, warts and all, is an amazing thing.

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