Competition is killing many of our schools in poorer neighborhoods. I’ve seen it firsthand where I live, a city with a rich history and an ethnically diverse population with a large percentage of poor and minority students. Many upper- and middle-class parents “choice” their children to schools outside the district, or send them to private schools. Typically, these are the best-educated parents, and the ones most likely to be strong advocates for their children’s education. So the absence of these children in our local district not only means less funding for its schools; it also means the students who are left don’t have as strong a voice.

Imagine if these parents had to send their children to their local public schools. Imagine if those who push for greater public-school competition were forced to do the same thing. If we took everyone’s passion and commitment to their own children’s education and channeled it into improving their local schools, it’s a safe bet those schools wouldn’t struggle for long.

School board elections would get a lot more attention, for one thing, and board meetings would always be well attended–even without a budget vote on the agenda. In short, every student would stand to benefit–not just those with the means or the savvy to escape to a “better” school.

Now, I’m not suggesting we could ever mandate such a radical change–or even that we should. There are still several institutional barriers to school improvement that need overcoming, and as a parent myself, I’m glad I have a choice in where I send my children to school.

But I’m wary of any sweeping arguments about how to improve public education that rely on private-sector business tenets, such as the one that says competition is good for the herd. Policy makers should remember: Schools and businesses are very different animals.

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