‘Voice,’ not ‘choice,’ will make schools better

Supporters of school choice like to cite the logic of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” – the idea that, if parents are free to select the best possible school for their children, the market will respond by improving the quality of education across the board.

The economist Albert O. Hirschman, profiled by Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker article, pointed out that economic systems aren’t always so simple and predictable.

In his best known book “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” Hirschman contrasted “exit” and “voice” as the two primary ways that people deal with challenging situations. “Exit” means voting with your feet, taking your business somewhere else. “Voice” means staying put and trying to make things better.

“There is no denying where (Hirschman’s) heart lay,” Gladwell writes. It lay on the side of voice.

In the example of a public school or school system that should improve, “exit” means you leave for a private or charter school and “voice” means you work to make the public schools better. You join the PTO, volunteer, go to school board meetings, write letters to the newspaper, lobby the legislature, etc. Continue reading