Benefits, pitfalls of buying education like groceries

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In 1973, an article in The New York Times Magazine authored by Milton Friedman championed school choice and the use of vouchers by invoking a thought experiment. Subtitled "Selling School like Groceries," Friedman's article asked readers to consider a scenario in which grocery stores operated under the same provisions as public elementary and secondary schools in the United States.

Imagine the perverse private and public outcomes of being required to purchase milk from the grocery closest to your home. Would you enjoy the same selection of milk sizes and varieties? Would the milk cost more? What hours would you be able to purchase milk? Ultimately, Friedman questioned why families enjoyed greater freedoms to purchase a gallon of milk than make educational choices for their children.

As an educational researcher and graduate school instructor, I have assigned Friedman's article numerous times and am consistently surprised by the number of students and educators who have never read the article, nor know much about Friedman. However, I am not surprised when students struggle to refute the argument and assertions put forth by a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

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