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Chase Thacker: Parents are best equipped to make education decisions

February 3, 2019

The debate between allowing school choice and keeping the status quo rages across a range of issues. Do schools of choice reduce costs? Do they increase test scores? Teacher pay? Civic engagement? Do they promote racial and socioeconomic segregation or integration?

In all of these debates, the question that is the most important and that likely underpins most of these other issues can become lost: Who should be empowered to determine what schools are “good”?

Opponents of school choice argue, whether consciously or unconsciously, that parents cannot be trusted with the choice about which school their child should attend because parents do not know enough about what is needed for good education. They want that choice left up to educators and state bureaucrats. School-choice advocates want that decision left up to the family.

To be fair to school-choice opponents, education certainly is an area where the economic concept of “asymmetric information” is at play. Teachers and administrators tend to know much more about education practices than the typical parent.

The danger of schools giving bad information about their practices to entice students theoretically could exist. However, as in any area with asymmetric information, the dangers can be offset by information-sharing practices among the consumers.

Such information sharing among parents already exists through online school rankings and individual conversations between trusted friends and family; people tend to know what schools they want to attend/avoid. Various nonprofit organizations also have arisen to address this need in other areas with school choice.

For example, Texas residents are served by an organization called Families Empowered, which helps families choose the right school for them. Rather than simply providing a list of the “best” schools in the family’s area, Families Empowered helps families find the learning environment that fits their children and their needs the best.

Of course, the natural question at this point is “Do these information sharing practices work?” Of course they do!

Middle- and high-income families already use similar practices for their own form of school choice. Families with greater means can home school, pay private school tuition, or move to whatever public-school district works for them.

They would not go through such lengths if it did not provide them with some benefit.

Further evidence arises from surveys in areas with school choice already. Nationwide surveys (such as the research published by Rhinesmith in 2017) consistently show higher levels of satisfaction among parents with access to school choice than among public school parents.

A survey from 2018 focused specifically on Florida’s school choice program found 93 percent of parents in the program were “completely satisfied,” and another 4 percent were “somewhat satisfied.” That same survey even addresses the information issue with a question about the ease of finding a school using a scholarship. 73 percent of parents said it was “very easy” with 16 percent more saying it was “somewhat easy.”

At play in the education debate is another bit of “information asymmetry” - the asymmetry in the knowledge about how each individual student learns best. No state official can possibly hope to know the students and family situations as well as parents. While parents have ways to ameliorate the information gap between schools and them, schools can hardly hope to reduce fully their gap in knowledge about each individual student.

Let’s get the state officials out of the way and empower the parents to make the best choice for their students!

Chase Thacker is a resident of Huntington and a parent.

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