Thursday, January 25, 2001

Columnist to tout choice at Cincinnati school fair

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Competition can solve many of the problems of public education, says columnist Walter Williams, a recognized speaker on school choice.

        That is the message Mr. Williams plans to deliver Saturday at a school fair sponsored by Cincinnati Councilman Phil Heimlich and several private backers.

        Competition, Mr. Williams said Wednesday in a phone interview, weeds out inferior quality and brings variety.

   • What: Cincinnati School Fair.
   • When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.
   • Where: Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.
   • Why: To highlight more than 40 public, private, Catholic and charter schools. There will be booths for 14 Cincinnati Public Schools, nine charter schools, 16 private schools and the city's Catholic schools, offering information on programs and scholarships.
        “I cannot say what the public school system or what education would look like with competition,” Mr. Williams said. “But I would say that if you look in the areas of our country where there is ruthless competition, we lead the world.”

        That would be in such markets as computer software, grocery stores and computers.

        “If you look in areas where we lag behind the world, it's where government controls things, whether it's the post office or public schools.”

        Economics Department chairman at George Mason University, Mr. Williams thinks charter schools and private schools are successful because they don't have to deal with everything heaved upon public schools.

        He cites Marva Collins Prep in Cincinnati, as well as Marcus Gar vey in Los Angeles and the Ivy League School in Philadelphia as positive examples.

        Students in these three schools are mostly African-American, and come from low-income backgrounds. Yet a majority of those students score at or above grade level when tested, Mr. Williams said.

        How do they do it?

        “A teacher doesn't have to spend time on discipline to the extent they do in public schools because they have the power to kick out kids or not accept kids who are troublemakers,” Mr. Williams said. “And there is greater parental involvement in these schools. ...”

        Mr. Williams is not saying that public education is bad. He just thinks competition is the best way to ensure that the best schools survive.

        “It's very much like if there was a restaurant in town, and you were required to go there or else you could not eat,” he said. “I doubt that the quality of that restaurant would be very good. But when there is competition, you get lots of choices and improved quality.”

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