Megan McArdle wonders why, if liberals like single-payer health care systems, but not UK-style single-provider health care systems, don’t we all support the idea of school vouchers. I think Kevin Drum mostly gets this right, but let me try to approach it from another direction.
If it were the case that I somehow developed the God-like power to create the American system of primary and secondary education from the ground up I think I probably would try to create one based on the analogy to single-payer health care. There would be some kind of basic, nationwide voucher framework that would include some kind of per-student funding formula (not strictly flat because of disabilities and other issues), a nationwide system of standardized tests at the foundation of a nationwide standards and accountability system, schools would need to do admissions by lottery, etc., etc., etc. The resulting system would be less centralized than the status quo in a lot of ways, but in other important ways it would be much more centralized. I think it would probably work better, and it’s certainly more logical than the current system, which is a messy hodgepodge that arose over a very long period of time.
But there’s the rub. That kind of vision I outlined has nothing to do with feasible changes to the existing education system in the United States (it would probably be, for example, unconstitutional). It’s not feasible politically, it’s not feasible institutionally, and there’s no way I could envision a route from Point A to Point B. I agree with Kevin that the closest thing seems to me to be certain kinds of charter school systems, which aim to let people try out some new techniques, give parents some more options, and put some pressure on larger system to think about ways to improve itself.