Bruno: If Rich Parents Can't Choose Schools Well, How Can Anybody?
Is the willingness of wealthy parents to spend gobs of money on elite private schools evidence that we should be spending more on traditional public schools? RiShawn Biddle doesn't think so and gives several reasons to justify his skepticism. In the process, though, he ends up seriously undercutting the case for school choice and more-intensive data gathering.
I'm as doubtful as Biddle that the high tuition at elite private schools is justified by school quality per se; it wouldn't take a high-quality school to enroll a bunch of kids from extremely wealthy families and then get them off to college. Still, on Biddle's own account this is tantamount to saying that rich parents are largely insensitive to school quality and, moreover, that when rich parents exercise school choice, they do so poorly. And this is despite the fact that the wealthiest parents are probably better informed than their less affluent counterparts.
And note that it doesn't really help to say, as he does, that the lack of "high quality" (i.e., testing) data on the elite schools makes rich parents less informed. After all, such information is available for many other schools they might choose, and yet many parents apparently choose to ignore it. This doesn't point to the need for more testing data so much as is points to the fact that reformers care about such data more than parents do.
Biddle is exactly right that when parents pony up for tuition at Sidwell Friends they're not paying for the education so much as they're paying for things like the ability to signal social status. If the wealthiest families don't choose schools exclusively - or even primarily - on the basis of educational quality, however, then why should we expect anything different in the case of less fortunate families?
Elite private school practices - high costs, small classes, broad curriculum - threaten much of the reform agenda, but in their defensiveness reformers often try to have it both ways. If wealthy parents choose schools poorly, then the case for expanding school choice is undermined. On the other hand if wealthy parents choose schools well, then the criteria by which reformers judge school quality are probably too narrow.
I'm not necessarily averse to proposals to judge school quality or expand school choice, but it does seem to me that we haven't carefully thought through how to do either. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)