How School Choice Turns Education Into a Commodity
Schools are a public good that extreme market proliferation would eventually destroy.
Buoyed by Donald Trump’s championing of a voucher system—and cheered on by his education secretary Betsy DeVos—Arizona just passed one of the country's most thoroughgoing policies in favor of so-called “school of choice.” The legislation signed by Governor Doug Ducey allows students who withdraw from the public system to use their share of state funding for private school, homeschooling, or online education.
Making educational funding “portable” is part of a much wider political movement that began in the 1970s—known to scholars as neoliberalism—which views the creation of markets as necessary for the existence of individual liberty. In the neoliberal view, if your public institutions and spaces don’t resemble markets, with a range of consumer options, then you aren’t really free. The goal of neoliberalism is thereby to rollback the state, privatize public services, or (as in the case of vouchers) engineer forms of consumer choice and market discipline in the public sector.
DeVos is a fervent believer in neoliberalizing education—spending millions of dollars on and devoting herself to political activism for the spread of voucher-system schooling. In a speech on educational reform from 2015, DeVos expressed her long-held view that the public-school system needs to be reengineered by the government to mimic a market. The failure to do so, she warned, would be the stagnation of an education system run monopolistically by the government:
We are the beneficiaries of start-ups, ventures, and innovation in every other area of life, but we don’t have that in education because it’s a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It’s a monopoly, a dead end. And the best and brightest innovators and risk-takers steer way clear of it. As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia, or Uber. We won’t see any real innovation that benefits more than a handful of students.
Many Americans now find DeVos’s neoliberal way of thinking commonsensical. After all, people have the daily experience of being able to choose competing consumer products on a market. Likewise, many Americans rightly admire entrepreneurial pluck. Shouldn’t the intelligence and creativity of Silicon Valley’s markets be allowed to cascade down over public education, washing the system clean of its School Choice, Neoliberalism Hurt Public Goods and Education - The Atlantic: