A lot of school reform haters seem mighty impressed by this Freddie de Boer takedown of an argument about charter schools that I never made. So here, again, is my argument. The term “charter schools” doesn’t appear in it in order to clarify the point that this is not an argument about charter schools.
Eighty percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas. The way public education works for that eighty percent of people is that any given metro area contains several different school districts. Parents, by choosing where they want to live, exercise choice over which school their kids will attend and which school district bureaucracy they’ll be subjected to. What’s more, since the desirability of the local schools are a determinant of land prices, all landowners in a given jurisdiction have an interest in increasing the desirability of the local schools. Finally, since the supply of houses is constrained in most jurisdictions, things that increase the price of land (like, for example, better schools) tend to increase the price of housing. Consequently, it’s extremely difficult for the poorest families to send their kids to anything other than the worst schools not only because of funding issues or the inherent challenges faced by poor students, but because public education in the United States of America is in many ways allocated by a market mechanism via the market for land. The fact that the service is provided “publicly” tends to obscure the fact that in a world where people can (and do) move the market for land means that there’s a market for schools. If you took the Washington DC metro area and somehow managed to change the current unfair situation where the low-income neighborhoods have the worst schools and instead made it that the lowest-income neighborhoods have the best schools, people wouldn’t just stay in place. Parents of means would start relocating to the places where the schools are best.