April 7, 2016; American Prospect

Giving parents the power to choose the schools their children attend is a key element of the nationwide effort to radically change the nature of American public education. Theoretically, a vibrant market would result in better schools replacing struggling ones, to the benefit of every child, and schools that compete will drive for efficiencies and operate at lower costs. For more than two decades, state legislatures and the U.S. government have fueled the growth of charter schools and tuition voucher programs in order to create local educational marketplaces to provide a wide range of educational options for parents to consider.

So, we continue to ask, how is this educational experiment going? While many recent studies have pointed to the limited evidence that the market-based reforms are providing improved education, a recent look by the American Prospect at Massachusetts’ experience give us a sobering look at the economic impact of building the educational marketplace.

Massachusetts launched its move toward a competition-based public educational system with the highest of purposes.

Charter schools in Massachusetts were established under the 1993 Education Reform Act. That act was passed in the wake of a ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, which found that Massachusetts had failed to educate “all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town of the Commonwealth at the public school level.”

But building the market to serve “all children” has proven to pose unanticipated challenges. Paul Reville, an educational policy and administration professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education described the situation and its surprises.

Those who introduced [competition] for the most part claimed that it would spawn a virtuous cycle, and it has some virtuous aspects to it, but it has also spawned a competition between the charter schools and the mainstream schools for scarce public resources. If we are going to have an extended experiment with making competition available in this space, I think that’s how you have to do it. People want to ha