Supply or demand?Banerjee and Duflo discovererd that experts who are tasked with solving a country’s problems basically tend to think about education in one of two ways. The first, the “demand” approach, sees education as an investment like any other. Parents will pay for their children to go to school because it’s an investment that will result in future earnings. Only when the benefit of education are understood to be high enough will parents either pay to send their children to private schools or, alternatively, demand that public education be improved. In this way of thinking, competition is the key to ensuring that parents get the level of quality of education they want for their children. Change will be driven by demand, not supply.This view of education is widely accepted around the world and is popular in the US. Even though the US has an extensive network of public schools, mainly run and financed by the states, one in ten American students attends private school, and practically all university education is tuition based. Even public education relies heavily on services provided by the private sector, including privately run--and increasingly for-profit--charter schools and testing programs created by multinational corporations.The demand approach is behind the concept of “school choice”, which usually means promoting further privatization of education. Often it goes hand in hand with other ideas that are fundamental to the global school-reform movement: more standardized tests to measure the effectiveness of teachers; more teacher accountability for the results of those tests; more competition between schools, teachers, and students; and more hours of study.There is, however, a quirk to education that makes approaching it as a normal investment tricky. Here’s the problem: Parents are expected to pay the price for investing in education, but children are the ones who reap the benefits--and usually that happens only many years or even decades later. This creates a major disconnect between the incentive and the reward, a disconnect that is seldom acknowledged. In a traditional or argrarian society, many parents would choose not to make this investment because there’s no immediate payoff, compared with keeping the child at home or on the farm to help out.But even parents in a modern society can be stymied by this disconnect, especially when education is very expensive. What’s more, the demand approach requires that parents actively manage their children’s education. Navigating a confusing variety of educational options, tackling a competitive application process, and ensuring that your child gets into the right school requires not only money but also skills, time, and very often connections.The demand approach makes the child’s destiny almost utterly dependent on the desires and capabilities of his or her parents.In the “supply” approach, education is not seen as something that comes into play only when parents demand it; rather education is seen as a basic human right. This goal stands regardless of what individual parents would choose for their child, or what a family’s particular circumstances would allow them to afford.“A civilized society cannot allow a child’s right to a normal childhood and a decent education to be held hostage to a parent’s whims or greed.”It’s an unfortunate fact that the US remains astonishingly backward compared to almost all other advanced western countries when it comes to education, because in America, what predicts how well a child will do in school is not a child’s aptitude or hard work, but the status of the child’s parents--which is to say, their own levels of education and wealth. Other countries suffer from this condition too, but the US is especially anachronistic. And it’s getting worse: a Stanford professor found that in 2010, the gap in test scores between rich and poor students in the US was about 40% larger than it had been three decades earlier.