Voting with Their Feet
One feature of "unleashing the power of the free market" in education is supposed to be a sort of regulation by the market's infamous invisible hand. Customers will "vote with their feet," driving the bad actors out of business.
In this country, there will always be an argument to be had about how well this really works. It's one of the dances of freedom and commerce that we have regularly. Is it okay to let Americans vote with their feet for grossly fat and unhealthy processed fast food? And are consumers moving the invisible hand based on their own honest desires, or are these hand-moving consumers themselves being moved by the not-so-invisible hand of marketing? And just how involved should the big fat heavy hand of government be in any of this? These are difficult and complicated questions, and I bring them up only to note that the idea that we just open a free market and the invisible hand sorts out the choices and-- voila!!-- quality!!-- well, that vision is a gross oversimplification and not very much like what actually happens at all.
We can already see the many ways in which the bipedal plebiscite is not working for education.
Exhibit A is the cyber charter industry. Let me first insert the disclaimer that for a small, select group of students, cyber school is an excellent solution. Having said that, the cyber charter industry at large is a huge failure, so huge that even the rest of the charter industry is calling for them to shape up. Cyber charters are a disaster, a waste of student time and taxpayer money. And yet, even though virtually every even-sort-of-responsible-voice in the education field has condemned cybers, the army of foot-voters have not yet put them out of business.
Why not? I can only offer theories based on anecdotal evidence. One is that people are voting with their feet, with cyber students either dropping out or returning to public school, often behind their peers. "I'm always excited to have a former cyber student in my class because I know they will be really on top of the material," said no teacher ever. However, so far, cyber marketing and aggressive recruiting keep new bodies signing up. Schools are made to be a churn and burn market-- you are always losing "customers," so your focus has to be on recruiting.
I think it's also safe to say that a certain amount of the education market is filled with customers CURMUDGUCATION: Voting with Their Feet: