Folks who are excited about Nevada's joyful embrace of choice-on-steroids might want to take a look at Sweden.
As my esteemed colleague Edushyster reminds us, the all-choice system experiment has been tried. Sweden has been creating an all-choice, all-privatized system for decades, and it has not gone well.
"It was in the early 2000s that the Swedish school system somehow seems to have lost its soul. Schools began to compete no longer on delivering superior quality but on offering shiny school buildings in shopping centres, and I think that’s the issue we are really seeing." Andreas Schleicher, OECD.
I am going to keep repeating this line until it starts to sink in:
The free market does not foster superior quality; the free market fosters superior marketing.
We have our own free-market education laboratory-- post-secondary education. As you may have heard, the cost of college has expanded like a hamster clamped onto a helium tank. There are a variety of suspects, all instructive.
One theory is that costs are driven up by the amount of money people have to spend. Student aid has been climbing, which has had the same effect on costs that you could expect if you went to a used car lot and announced, "Oh, I though I only had ten grand to spend on a car, but it turns out I actually have fifteen." (Hint: the salesman does not say, "Oh, put that extra five K away-- you won't need it for anything.")
Some analysts blame frills, like Schleicher's "shiny school buildings." Parents who drop their children off at schools far nicer than their own add anecdotal punch to this idea. Why do schools add frills? Because a frill is good, easy marketing, and because not all customers in the marketplace are driven by rational consideration of educational quality.
Other analysts have noted the increase in administrators. More money, more students, more facilities, more marketing = more people in charge.
All of this is predictable by the what I'm going to call the Jobs Effect, from an interview with Steve Jobs in which he observed that past a certain point, improving your product does not make you more money and at that point, the people who make a difference in the bottom line are the bean counters and marketters, and so those are the people who start rising through the ranks to run the business, leading to the point where product quality stops mattering and the company loses its way.
This seems to match what we find in Sweden. As a result of all-choice system, test scores plummet and gaps between the class-- well, Edushyster offers this quote from the Swedish education minister:
Instead of breaking up social differences
and class differences in the education system, we have a system today
that’s creating a wider gap between the ones that have and the ones that
It's kind of amazing-- here's an entire country that has done exactly what charter-choice advocates want to do in this country, and they've been doing it for years, and the results are clearly visible and visibly crappy. Yes, you could argue that Sweden is a different country with a different culture, but that sort of concern certainly hasn't kept reformsters from loving on China and Finland and Estonia.
So let's not call Nevada's choice system an experiment, because it's no more an experiment than saying, "Hmm, I wonder if anything bad will happen if I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day for the next four decades." No, Nevada's new system is the same sort of willful denial as "I'm sure he'll really leave his wife this time" or "Clicking on the button the five-hundred-and-first time will make all the difference." And when it fails, the entire country of Sweden will be able to say, "We told you so."