When you apply the methodology described above to a large cross section of the world’s education systems, from ancient times to the present and from the developing world to the rich world, you arrive at a clear conclusion: free education markets have consistently done the best job of meeting the goals set out at the beginning of this paper. The most market-like school systems are the most efficient, produce the highest student achievement, do the best job of maintaining safe clean facilities and studious atmospheres, create the least social conflict, and are the most responsive to the varied and changing needs of the families they serve. The catalogue of evidence and analysis on which those conclusions are based has already been published at great length elsewhere,[9] and would retain little of its original potency if reduced to a few summary paragraphs here. Readers unconvinced of the assertions in this section are encouraged to refer to the sources cited in the preceding endnote.

Free education markets have consistently done the best job of meeting the goals set out at the beginning of this paper.

Thus taking the evidence favoring education markets as given, the current section purposes to briefly explain why markets have enjoyed their consistent superiority over alternative systems for organizing education. Distilling the answer to that question down to its simplest meaningful form, we can say that the most successful education systems of the past 2,500 years have shared five characteristics that seem most directly responsible for their success:

  • Choice for parents

  • Direct financial responsibility for parents

  • Professional freedom for educators

  • Vigorous competition among schools to attract and retain students

  • The profit motive to drive innovation and the dissemination of best practices

The discussion that follows is comprised of five discrete sections that briefly explain each of the above factors. That does not mean that these characteristics function independently. On the contrary, they are deeply interrelated and interdependent. Parental choice, for example, is meaningless unless schools have the autonomy to differentiate themselves. In considering whether or to what extent any of these factors can be compromised for the sake of political expediency, it is therefore necessary to not only take into account the narrow benefits associated with the individual factor itself, but also to consider the impact such a compromise would have on the other factors and hence the system’s overall performance.