Burger School

Tyler Cowen's upset with Jonathan Kozol's warning that "If those of us who profess to value public schools and the principle of democratic access they uphold cannot find the courage or the motivation to fight in their defense, we may soon wake up to find that they have been replaced by wholly owned subsidiaries of McDonald's, Burger King, and Wal-Mart." And, indeed, if anything the problem with privatizing the school system is likely to be the reverse of this. Businesses go where the business opportunities are.

Given the difficulty of the enterprises, there's no reason to think that educating disadvantaged children is a market that smart businessmen are clamoring to get in on. The basic structure of the achievement gap problem in the United States is that all the evidence suggests that educating the disadvantaged is harder than educating the privileged, but the latter task attracts more resources than does the former. A privatized system could, in principle, change that; but a publicly administered one could as well. Either way, you'd need a setup so that the best people (in terms of teachers, administrators, or even vicious profit-maximizing businessmen) were drawn to doing the harder job rather than the easier one.