Yesterday, Kathleen discussed the relationship between standards and choice, ultimately arguing that these two movements ought to operate as complements, rather than antagonists.
Many critics on the Right reject the intrusion of standards-based reforms from the very basic tenets of economic theory. A truly free-market approach, they argue, would obviate the need for standards because competition and universal choice would identify excellent and poor schools (and educators) more efficiently and effectively than centrally imposed standards ever could.
This position resonates with free-market purists and conservative education reformers alike (and as an unabashed free marketeer, to me as well). Yet, fidelity to economic principles without a realistic discussion of the world within which they operate is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, even the most ardent Chicago economists would agree—whether regarding education policy, drinking water, or anything in between—that the ideal free market with no distortions is both unattainable and undesirable. We could reduce rent-seeking behavior and deadweight losses across almost every industry by eliminating things like the FDA, federal antitrust laws, statewide insurance commissions—even state speed limits or (gasp) lawyers. Eliminating clinical trials would allow large pharmaceutical drug companies to move innovative new compounds quickly to market with minimal cost, and the resulting successes (cured cancer patients) and failures (horrific side effects for the patients who managed to survive substandard drugs) would almost assuredly be closer to the true definition of “efficient” than our current processes.
Similarly, the Constitution secures to inventors exclusive rights to their inventions,...