Vail Valley Voices: The marketplace of education |

Vail Valley Voices: The marketplace of education

Dennis Geraghty
Vail, CO, Colorado

It’s that time of year again. Students are returning to school, and that means we will be reading many articles lamenting the decline of public education.

Critics will focus on the usual issues: improving standards, curriculum, assessment, and teacher preparation.

As a retired teacher with over 30 years of experience, here’s my take on what’s wrong with public education as perceived from the view of a secondary teacher.

Across the country, the number of charter and private schools have increased due to the growing disenchantment with public education. The most recent evidence, however, indicates that these alternatives haven’t shown any truly significant improvement over public education. The same problems seem to exist no matter what type of school students attend.

There has been a lot of emphasis on applying a business approach to education. So let’s think out of the box and consider viewing education from an economic perspective.

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In economics, a market is defined as any place buyers and sellers of products or services come together for the fundamental purpose of engaging in voluntary exchange that will result in mutual benefit. Take a deep breath and consider the following.

Schools are marketplaces where teachers, acting in the role of suppliers, are trying to sell a product, education in the form of all the classes offered, to students, acting in the role of demanders, who are all too often showing limited or non-existent demand.

Schools fit the definition of a market except for a critical condition. School is mandatory in every state, and in most schools kids are required to take certain classes. There is no voluntary exchange. What you thus have is a perfect example of how an economic law can be applied to public education. Whenever there is an excess supply of anything in relation to demand, value will decline. A sharp economic student could prove this using a supply-demand graph.

Let this scenario sink in a bit and then consider that virtually every criticism of public education seems to focus in on supply side issues — standards, curriculum, assessment, teacher preparation, physical facilities, technology and dress requirements, to name a few. Educators and politicians rightfully attempt to improve these issues in education, but they are all supply side issues. Once again, excess supply in relation to static or declining demand will always result in declining value.

The solution? In an economic sense, it’s elementary. If public education is to improve, especially at the secondary level, we must address the demand side. Why not? At best all the supply side efforts over the past 30 years have resulted in marginal success. But who is identified with the demand side of the equation?

Why none other than the student. How do we get students to take more responsibility for their own learning so we can see an improvement in education? That’s the real challenge for educators. It can be done and has to be done. Let’s start by thinking out of the box.

Dennis Geraghty, a retired secondary teacher, is a part-time Edwards resident.

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