Rainbow Fart Theories Fail

Apologists for government schools, when confronted with the long history of government failure, often respond along these lines:

I agree. Government schools have been bad here, there, and everywhere. They are bad today, they have been bad for a hundred years. But if we could only find the right recipe, perhaps using rainbows collected from unicorn farts, we could finally do it right and deliver on all those broken promises.

Larry Cuban has been a teacher, administrator, and researcher for decades. He’s very pro-government schooling. Yet, he wrote

The notion of institutions adopting reforms in order to maintain stability—sometimes called “dynamic conservatism”—captures how U.S. public schools, especially in big cities have embraced new policies (e.g., charter schools, Common Core standards, new technologies) signaling stakeholders that schools are, indeed, changing. Yet those districts and schools have left untouched essential structures that make U.S. schools the way they are (and have been for over a century) such as residential segregation, school revenue derived from property assessment, age-graded schools, self-contained classrooms, student promotion, and retention, textbooks, and state tests.

Larry Cuban is an expert on school reform. He has written several books, one of them summing up a hundred years of school reform. He almost sounds like Gandhi, who was asked about Western Civilization. School Reform, one thinks, “would be a good idea.”

Not being expert at economics, particularly Public Choice Economics, Larry Cuban is unaware that the tax-based funding, the residential segregation, the inflexibility, all are part and parcel of a well-known syndrome which is common to institutions driven by politics, rather than markets.

Another researcher, Andrew J. Coulson, has studied 2500 years of historical precedents, in many nations, and has concluded:

Competitive educational markets have consistently done a better job of serving the public than state-run educational systems. The reason lies in the fact that state school systems lack four key factors that history tells us are essential to educational excellence: choice and financial responsibility for parents, and freedom and market incentives for educators. School systems that have enjoyed these characteristics have consistently done the best job of meeting both our private educational demands and our shared educational ideals.

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