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The paper is interesting, but while education may not be a public good, it's no consumer good either.

Actually I should say the paper *looks* interesting, but not $5 interesting, which is what it would cost me to download.

I've added a link to an older, ungated version of the paper.

Education is a rival good, and at least some of the benefits are excludable. It's not a pure private good, but it's definitely much farther from being a public good. But come to think of it, I don't see why the point is even relevant here - no-one's talking about changing how K-12 is funded.

Here's a link to a recent version of the paper http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/empl/faculty/dooley/card-dooley-payne-July-2008.pdf

Thanks, Aaron. I've changed the link to the version you found.

Thanks for the link update. Now do I have to read it? It's sunny outside.

I was thinking that education is a club good and you choose a membership. Frank's argument is that everyone wants to be surrounded by smart students, so it is vulnerable to a lot of status-linked problems. To the extent that is true, increased competition would polarize education but not increase the average quality.

No, club goods are non-rival. Teachers' attention is finite, so larger classes reduces the quality of education. In other words, adding an extra student to the class makes the other students worse off, which isn't the case for a club good.

Who is Frank?

You have to be really careful about unintended consequences with this sort of thing.

Here in Alberta, the school system uses standardized tests to assess performance in grade 3,6,9 and 12. They use the results to rank the schools. You can send you kid to any school you want, but you're only guaranteed a spot in your local designated school. In many ways the system is disaster. They don't control for income/social inequality so you can have great teachers and a well run school that performs poorly because the kids start-off highly disadvantaged, so they get a low undeserved low ranking. And the testing is awful, especially for the young kids in grade 3 and 6. They end-up cramming instead of learning. Many parents just find excuses to pull the young kids out of school when the tests are administered to spare them.

Allowing kids to go to whatever school they want but only guaranteeing a spot and transportation for the local school also disadvantages the kids from poor families, who may not be able to afford the costs, be it for transport or time to see the kid safely to and from school (poor people tend to have less flexible working conditions).

I would also point out that high test scores are NOT the end goal of education. The point of education is to produce a thinking, productive, informed citizen. The obscession with test scores has led to the idiocy of cutting out physical education and the arts. In my view, it's a very myopic view of education.

Instead of looking at test scores alone, I suggest that we measure longer term outcomes relative to where the student started. For example, if you have a kid who comes from a poor family with no father and mother on welfare and that kid manages to complete a two year technical course to become an electrician, I'd say that's a much better accomplishment than a kid from a wealthy stable family who coasts through a psychology degree at university and goes to work for Daddy. But I'd bet you that little Johnny from the right side of the tracks outscores the kid from the wrong side of the tracks all the way through school.

The LHS variable in the Card-Dooley-Payne study is the *change* in test scores between grades 3 and 6.

Just to be clear - I'm not saying that competition is bad. I'm just pointing out that it's not easy to implement and that there's more to it than just test scores. There's a real danger of getting carried away with a very narrow definition of 'efficiency' like they did here in AB.

Oh, I can see the it's not easy to set up a system in which all parents can choose schools. Even the Ontario system only offers choices to Catholics. The gains from choice seem pretty clear; the question now is how to extend those gains to everyone.

Actually, I wonder if the mere fact that there is a choice, and thus a decision needs to be made, is an incentive for parents to get involved (or at least be aware), which is one of the oft sited factors for a students success ... Hmmm ...

Oh, I can see the it's not easy to set up a system in which all parents can choose schools. Even the Ontario system only offers choices to Catholics. The gains from choice seem pretty clear; the question now is how to extend those gains to everyone.

See, this is what annoys me about economists. Of course the gains from choice are pretty clear---if only a few people are able to exercise that choice. This is called I-N-E-Q-U-A-L-I-T-Y. The state at which everyone is able to benefit equally from choice is precisely the state at which we are all equal. That's why I get bored with talk of "equality of opportunity"---I prefer equality of outcome, it is more measurable.

Indeed. But would you really prefer a world in which everyone on the planet is equally on the verge of a miserable death by starvation and exposure to the one we have now? The outcomes are horrible, but at least they're equal. Is that really what you'd prefer? If not, why not?

This also works for hospitals, doesnt it?

I expect so, though I'm not aware of a way of comparing hospitals that is as clean as standardised tests.

Indeed. But would you really prefer a world in which everyone on the planet is equally on the verge of a miserable death by starvation and exposure to the one we have now? The outcomes are horrible, but at least they're equal. Is that really what you'd prefer? If not, why not?

This question seems to suffer from a presupposition wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a false dichotomy.

You know, there are actually several sensible answers to that question, at least some of which you might agree with.

Maybe you should do some homework as well, if the subject really is that important to you.

From way back: "Who is Frank?"

Deleted a sentence in my comment. I meant Robert Frank of "Winner-Take-All".

Ah. I haven't read the book, but after a google search, I think I understand the argument. In this context, what he is talking about is the difference between private and public schools. We all know that parents of kids who go - or might go - to private schools have choices.

But in this case, we're talking about two sets of public schools; Catholics aren't paying more for their better schools. The simple fact that they have a choice - the sort of choice available to parents with the wherewithal to send their kids to private school - is enough to force school administrators to provide better outcomes.

Clearly, the sort of power required to force improvements in school quality need not be restricted to the rich. Nor need it be restricted to Catholics, really.

"The gains from choice seem pretty clear"

Not to me. Reading the report, it suggests that a number of studies have been done and have failed to find much link at all. Their own study produces a faint signal of some weak results that they admit could be caused by many other correlated factors aside from the competition effect.

My reading of the paper suggests the impact of competition is far from clear.

Interesting article related to school performance:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090226093423.htm

A few excerpts:

"... a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum."

"... in previous research, the Lubienskis discovered that after holding demographic factors constant, public school students performed just as well if not better than private schools students on standardized math tests."

"Lubienski said one reason private schools show poorly in this study could be their lack of accountability to a public body"

"... school size and parental involvement “didn’t seem to matter all that much,” Lubienski said,... "

Accountability to a public body is a sort of competition, I suppose.


Oh dear, a non-economist as ventured an opinion and Mr. Gordon is displeased.

The day you display any understanding of education (as opposed to indoctrination) is the day I'll bother listening to what you have to say on this topic.

Foreigner do you have a point?

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