Kaat Vandensavel runs a Belgian government school, but in Belgium, school funding follows students, even to private schools. So Vandensavel has to work hard to impress the parents. "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." That pressure makes a world of difference, she says. It forces Belgian schools to innovate in order to appeal to parents and students. Vandensavel's school offers extra sports programs and classes in hairdressing, car mechanics, cooking, and furniture building. She told us, "We have to work hard day after day. Otherwise you just [go] out of business."
"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."
Vandensavel adds, "America seems like a medieval country . . . a Communist country on the educational level, because there's no freedom of choice -- not for parents, not for pupils."
In kindergarten through 12th grade, that is. Colleges compete, so the United States has many of the most prestigious in the world -- eight of the top 10 universities, on a Chinese list of the world's top 500. (The other two are Cambridge and Oxford.)
Accountability is why universities and private schools perform better. Every day they are held accountable by parents and students, and if they fail the kids, school administrators lose their jobs. Public school officials almost never lose jobs.
Government schools are accountable only to their fellow politicians, and that kind of accountability is virtually no accountability.
The public schools are cheating the children.