Is Competition Good For Public Schools?

By  Stina Sieg
July 29, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the Phoenix Union High School District)
Schools across Arizona are having to learn to market themselves to attract students in a competitive education market. Above is a billboard for the Phoenix Union High School District.

Arizona has one of the most competitive markets in the country, when it comes to the business of K-12 education. This state is all about something called school choice, meaning it encourages families to choose between traditional public schools, publically funded charter schools and private institutions.

“When you look at monopolies, they simply don’t work,” said John Huppenthal, Arizona’s Director of Public Instruction – who’s up for reelection, by the way.

He’s been supporting school choice for decades and that said that without this competition, the worst teachers in the worst schools are guaranteed full classes.

“When you’ve got 20 other choices and you’re in that classroom, that’s great evidence,” he said. “That’s affirming a teacher in a way that you can never affirm a teacher in a monopoly.”

Huppenthal believes Arizona is about to make a drastic leap forward in education thanks, in large part to more charter schools. Right now, about 20 percent of public schools are charters. Huppenthal would like to see twice that many. That doesn’t sit well with Andrew Morrill. The former teacher is the President of the Arizona Educational Foundation.

“Arizona has been a choice-wealthy state for over 25 years now,” he said. “If choice was a lever for improvement, we would know it.”

Morrill said school choice sounds good in theory, but he argues that it creates a have and have situation. What happens, for example, to students who live in a rural area, where there is no school choice?

“I mean, wouldn’t the best choice really be to build a great public education school, neighborhood district school, within reach of every student in Arizona?” Morrill asked.

And he believes that choice is threatened by what he calls the privatization of public schools in the state.