What If Coffee Shops Were Run Like Public Schools ?

Over at The American Spectator, Andrew Coulson wonders what might happen if coffee shops were run the same way we run public education:

Imagine what would happen if coffee shops were run like schools. Let’s say that state and local officials granted Starbucks a “public coffee” franchise, paying it $10,000 annually per customer (about what the public schools spend per pupil) to keep us all in caffeinated bliss.

It would be the espresso shot heard round the world.

Not everybody likes the same brand of coffee, and the decision to let Starbucks give its product away for free would drive most other suppliers out of business. Coffee drinkers would get mighty steamed about that. Aficionados of competing shops would demand the right to spend their share of the coffee franchise money on the baristas of their choice.

Of course, if things played out the way they have in education, these dissenters would get nowhere. In the end, they would be forced to cave and join the tax-funded coffee queue at Starbucks, or foot the bill at their preferred shops and kiss $10,000 a year in free coffee goodbye.

But that would be just the beginning. Once Starbucks had a guaranteed source of tax revenue, customer satisfaction would fall by the wayside as a motivating principle of its business. After all, it would get paid the same amount whether or not folks were served well or promptly. To improve its bottom line it would no longer need to focus on consistency and innovative new products. So it would look for ways to cut services.

Of course, that’s not how the coffee shop market works. Starbucks competes with Caribou Coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts and countless other local and regional coffee stores and franchises (not to mention the national brands available in supermarkets). And we’re all the better for it.

Why, then, do we insist on socialism in the education marketplace when the alternative seems all so simple ? As Coulson says:

In a free education marketplace, popular, well-managed schools would grow, while unpopular, poorly managed schools would close. There would be no politburo-like board threatening to merge schools together or close them down for its own budgetary reasons. The incentives of that marketplace would encourage innovation and a variety of options to cater to the diversity of families’ demands. Children would not be treated as interchangeable widgets to be processed through a single official system based on their age, or be shuffled around from one school to another just to make someone’s numbers work out.

We don’t trust our coffee to the government, and yet we’re willing to entrust our children ?

  • Pingback: Edutheria » Blog Archive » Public coffee districts()

  • http://www.pubcrawler.blogspot.com/ tkc

    Let me play the devil’s advocate here.

    1) Rich people would get the best coffee, the middle class can only afford so-so coffee, and the poor would go without. Why would you advocate a system that left to most vulnerable to fend for themselves?
    You would end up denying education to the poor and thus guarantee that they get stuck in a cycle of poverty.

    2) Education is right. It is a small price to pay for equality.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    Boortz had an article about this a while back. It took the idea of having your grocery store allocated to you by geography instead of having choice. The point of the article was exactly the same…

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    It would not be public education, if it were a free education marketplace.

    How do you know if one would have had enough money for the school of their choice?

    If the system would have been as you describe In the early 20th century, I don’t think we would have had anyone like Richard Feynman excel.

    Not all school districts spend as much as $10,000 per student.

  • Eric

    The fact is, the poor are pretty well left by the wayside in today’s system. The rich are not going to benefit anymore from a free education market than they do already. The issue here is not helping the rich, they already have school choice. The truth is that our current “education system” reinforces the class structure by trapping poor children in squalid, boring, poorly performing schools.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    The poor would still be left in those underperforming schools, because there only can be so many resources and the competition would be fierce. As it is in my school district, just to get into a magnet or a charter school. Unless it was a lottery among the public schools and the underperforming child could be chosen. Private schools have criteria, which would exclude them. You think parochial schools are going to take underperforming children?
    Another thing that bothers me, is what happens to a child with uninterested parent(s)? Shouldn’t the child be able to go a neighborhood school and that child would have an opportunity to get educated? Should we just throw away that child’s opportunity? Does Our philosophy have more value?
    What is very interesting to me, public schools can’t work for the poor; now that is has educated poor European immigrant children and children from rural America; and has contributed to a much more egalitarian society where class is less of an issue. Now that is has done its work there, its too hard to educate a different looking poor?

    Selling coffee is not the same as educating a child. The place to look is at the teachers, not the market.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    “Selling coffee is not the same as educating a child. The place to look is at the teachers, not the market.”

    I’ll grant that we need to take a look at the teachers’ union, which appears to support the interests of their own power base, not of educating the students.

    But don’t you think we need to look at this as a system? As a system, the incentives just aren’t there to put forth a good product. The reason we point at the market is that the market has a built-in incentive: if your product can’t compete, it disappears. Wouldn’t a voucher system continue the public funding of education, but introduce the market incentives to ensure the product improved?

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    Now, just who do you think would care? What you don’t get is that people who have worked under the old system will not see any incentive? I see the difference where I work (a municipality)in those who have worked in private industry and those who have been civil servants all their lives.
    In my scenario, where the child winds up at a underperforming school, the incentive would have to go to the teachers. Does everyone assume that teachers don’t write off students in these schools? The students never rise to the challenge, because they are never challenged. I never understood why one could not teach a five or six year old. These schools are not populated with mentally challenged children.
    You would have to also change the requirements of teachers, allowing intelligent, knowledgeable people teach without having to have a Masters in Education. Vouchers don’t change attitudes or process; it may not even be enough money for a parent to go outside of the public system. That is if real choice is bring offered.

  • Eric

    Why are teachers like they are today VRB?

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    There were some teachers like this when I was in school. I think the professionalism has made it difficult for a creative or a gifted person who really could teach to be able to. Teaching is an art, not everyone can do it. Getting a graduate degree doesn’t make a teacher. One school system, I don’t remember the city, was having success hiring retired military persons. They were more successful in maintaining discipline and improving the students, than the other teachers. I would think that this would reflect on teacher training. Teachers should know more about what they are teaching, than methods of teaching, even in elementary school.
    The problem I encountered as a student, was having teachers that were just in it for the check. This was the unfortunate reality of segregated schools. I also noticed that sometimes class played a role in how a student got treated. I have seen this played out when my son was in school.
    I have often wondered how a teacher in the late nineteenth century could prepare high school students to be able to go to Harvard or Princeton, when they only had a high school diploma.
    It could be that if a principal had the ability to keep only the good teachers, there would not be enough.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    I wish I were able to preview.

  • Eric

    VRB, how do companies employ good talent, motivate that talent, retain it? Not by having jobs for life, no competition, etc.

  • Eric

    the entire education market needs to be free, not just the market for which school the kids attend. The whole thing.