This winter's Florida court ruling against school choice came after former teacher Ruth Holmes Cameron brought a suit. "To say that competition is going to improve education -- it's just not going to work," she said. "You know, competition is not for children. It's not for human beings, it's not for public education."
Why not? Would you keep going back to a restaurant that served you a bad meal? Or a barber that gave you a bad haircut? Competition makes everything better. Why would schools be different? In the few places where vouchers have been allowed, like Milwaukee, the kids who used vouchers did better, and those who stayed in the public schools were not left behind.
How can that be? In 2001, Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby found that Milwaukee's private school vouchers made the nearby public schools (which were competing for the same students) change. "[Public] school principals were allowed to have a lot more autonomy," she said, "They counseled teachers out of teaching altogether who really weren't performing or showing up on the job -- they put in new back to basics curricula in some primary schools that really needed that so that reading skills and math skills would go up." Test results at those public schools went up by 7.1 percent in math, 8.4 percent in science, and 3.0 percent in language. Scores went up in voucher schools, too.
Competition worked -- for human beings, and for public education.
Note to readers: Last week, I said New York teachers had agreed to a "uniform" six-hour, 50-minute day, a "concession" that lengthened their workday by a measly 10 minutes. In fact, it's not "uniform": Different schools are using the additional time to stretch their schedules different ways.