A Few "Irrational" Parents Better Than Bureaucrats in Charge of All Kids

Updated for clarity

Over at the Britannica blog, Dan Willingham wonders aloud if school choice might be a bad policy not effect positive change in the system through competition because many parents won’t make the “rational” decision:

The logic of school choice seems obvious. If parents selected their children’s schools, they would not choose bad ones, so bad schools would not be able to survive. Schools would have to improve or close, just as a store that offers poor service will lose business to a store that offers better service.

Here’s my problem with that logic: I think it’s highly likely that many parents will choose bad schools.

(H/T Core Knowledge blog)

You’re welcome to go ahead and read Mr. Willingham’s entire entry. But I think Jay Greene has done the best job of providing a rational objection:

Dan is mistaken in that choice does not require perfect rationality on the part of parents. All that it required is that parents, on average, will do better at picking schools for their children than the bureaucrats who design schools and compell children to attend those schools….

Of course, the reason why we have democracy despite our awareness of human irrationality is the same reason why we should have schools choice: on average, people are better at making decisions that affect their own interests than are others. Even poorly-educated people lacking information are likely to have more knowledge of their interests and how to pursue them than are others making decisions on their behalf.

In the end, a parent is many times more likely than a bureaucrat to choose the best educational environment for her own son or daughter — even if it’s the school their child already attends and a bureaucrat may happen to agree. But that’s only likely to happen when a wide range of choices already exist. Another argument in favor of expanding policies and programs of wide-ranging parental choice in education.

Meanwhile, my Education Policy Center friends continue to do the very important work of helping parents to make the most informed decision possible, through the amazing School Choice for Kids website. You’ll find information there on the public school open enrollment process, all different kinds of private schools, and even homeschooling for the bold and the brave. You also can find the right kind of school near you using an excellent map search tool.