2 thoughts on “Research, not ideology, should guide the for-profit school debate”

  1. Posted 16/08/2012 at 14:38 | Permalink

    Well done for such a powerful defence of your arguments. From a purely common-sense position, it’s fair to say that the arguments for and against for-profit ‘free’ schools are somewhat inconclusive, both in terms of cost and quality – in part because of the small number of them (I realise that’s a gross simplification, to me it seems fairly conclusive that there are definite cost and probably quality improvements available). Certainly, they do not seem to produce any negative effects. Therefore it seems incredible to recommend ‘banning’ for-profit schools on such a basis.
    More broadly, many people seem to oppose the idea of ‘profit’ on a purely kneejerk reaction – both politicians and in the broader public discourse. This is partly due to ignorance, a belief that such schools would be run by McDonald’s or some such nonsense – although schools run by McDonald’s might actually be very good, who knows? But it is also down to a belief that profit is ‘bad’ per se as it ‘withdraws’ funds from education and places them in the hands of those greedy entities known as shareholders (ie. most people with pensions or insurance). This view prevails even in free markets and is a very worrying feature of contemporary political discourse.
    From an economic standpoint, it’s hardly surprising that for-profit schools perform better given what economic theory and practice show us is the case. It would be more surprising if the reverse were true and the burden of proof ought to lie on those who propose ‘banning’ such schools, especially as they have no evidence from the UK to go upon (the only evidence the UK presents is that private schools perform far better than state schools as a whole).
    My concerns about for-profit schools are, however, rather different. Firstly, if a particular for-profit school were to perform badly, this would doubtless be used as evidence that they are a bad idea – despite the countless number of poor state schools we currently see. Secondly, as you point out, for-profit schools will only have a truly beneficial effect within a wider reform of education, but such systematic and widespread reform is unlikely in the UK, with powerful vested interests in opposition and widespread public ignorance. The fear for any market reform is that it may not create a real market which, when it fails to produce favourable results, is held up as a failure of free markets: witness the banks or the railways.

  2. Posted 17/08/2012 at 07:05 | Permalink

    Whig is absolutely correct.

    Opponents of for-profit schools not only do not want to choose for-profit schools for themselves, they want to prevent other people from having the option of choosing them.

    Therefore, quite apart from the libertarian argument, they would need to demonstrate that ALL for-profit schools must always be inferior to non-profit schools in order to justify not allowing them. Otherwise it is clear that they must, in some instances at least, be advocating preventing parents from choosing a for-profit school that is superior to the non-profit alternative.

Comments are closed.