Some reformers perceive privatization as the answer to better schools and education in the form of vouchers, tuition tax-credits, education management organizations (EMO’s), private contractors, charter management organizations and virtual schools.
Efforts to privatize education lead to an emphasis on ‘consumer goods’ not the common good: “Democracy is about making wise collective choices, not individual consumer choices. Democracy and education and education and democracy are not quaint legacies from a distant and happier time. They had never been more essential to wise self-rule than they are today.1”
Public schools were created to impart the values of our nation and educate children so they can contribute and participate in our society politically, socially, and economically. They were created for the common good not for profit.
Businesses, on the other hand, are created for providing a service or product with the express purpose of making profit. Money is to be made. But profit can distort decision-making. Profits can come before pupils. In this case the old adage, “the buyer beware” may be the principle that parents will need to embrace if privatization takes hold.
Parents and others have a place to be heard if they are dissatisfied with their child’s public education. If they are disgruntled with Pearson’s test materials, where can they go? If for-profit schools are not meeting their responsibilities, where do parents go? Will Bill Gates respond to parents when they disagree with his teacher evaluation schemes that he has been promoting? Once public policy is manipulated into mandates or legislation for the gain of special or personal interests citizens lose control, and changing them is not easy.
The upshot of corporate influences, of course, systematically reduces democratic control of schools. Are corporations going to be more responsive to your needs than your local school board? As a citizen, are you going to really have any input into the policies and procedures, no less the goals of the curriculum, if a corporation runs a school, particularly if profit or special interests are involved? Is transparency of finances and policy lost when schools are privatized?
The privatization movement actually undermines a fundamental and traditional value of public education as a foundation for a better life individually and collectively through community commitment and support. Eliminating public schools removes oversight, leaving education to the whim of entrepreneurs and financiers. This certainly will jeopardize what the goals of education should be.
As citizens, we should be concerned that an historic foundation of our democracy – public education – is in jeopardy and could become a market for corporations that emphasize profits rather than the education of all children.
1. Sarah Mondale and Sara B. Patton, School: The Story of American Education, Boston: Beacon Press, 2001], 8.
See: The Fog of Reform: Getting Back to a Place Called School.