Peter Greene patiently dissects a paper by Michael McShane of the conservative American Enterprise Institute advocating a free market of competition in education. It is all Bout supply and demand, McShane believes, but Greene says that it is “an exercise in unicorn farming.”

To choose wisely among many schools, parents need full and deep information, the theory goes, but Greene says what they get instead is marketing. How did big corporations succeed? By advertising and marketing.

He writes:

“McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Standard Oil, Bank of America– none of these corporations have dominated their marketplace by spreading information about their products and services. There is no market sector in which customers are moved primarily by information. Succeeding in the marketplace often involves carefully controlling and withholding the information that customers receive. In fact (and this should trouble the boys at AEI), often the real information that is available is available only because government regulation and intervention require it (think nutritional info at fast food places).

“No charter school will ever say, “Let’s get a complete, thorough informational package out there so that families can make the best decision from with the umpteen schools in this market.” What the charter will always say, like any good business, is, “How can we best present ourselves to convince the greatest number of families to choose us?”

Greene takes issue with the supply-side of McShane’s equation:

“McShane frames this as the problem of turning a monopoly into a free market, so he’s wrong right out of the gate– public education is not now, nor has it ever been, a monopoly. And even if we agree that public schools are a taxpayer-operated monopoly, no monopoly break-up has ever involved making the old monopoly operator provide all the financing of the new “competition.” When Microsoft was being threatened with a spanking for being a monopoly, nobody ever suggested that a fitting punishment would be for Microsoft to pay the bills for Apple, Corel, and every other software maker in the marketplace. But somehow the “breakup” of the taxpayer-funded “monopoly” of public schools involves having the taxpayers pay the bills for every school that wants to “compete” with public education.”

Reformers use international test scores as the reason to demolish public education by introducing a free market. Why does it never occur to them that every one of the high-performing nations has a high-quality, equitable public school system. Not one has a free market of privately managed schools. Not one has annual tests as we do. We could learn from them if we tried.