Friday, August 10, 2012

Privatizing Public Education

Even though I am a staunch supporter of Public Education, I am very aware of the problems that plague traditional schooling. I believe that school needs to look a lot less like school. Like Sir Ken Robinson, I too am a supporter of a learning revolution where the goal is public schools that provide students with an opportunity to pursue their passions while nurturing competency, creativity and critical thinking.

However, there is more than one revolution afoot.

The promise of technology and personalization is being co-opted by the perils of profiteers and privatization where one goal is "an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards." Another, more ominous goal is to use technology to cut costs by replacing teachers.

Consider three quotes and a video:

 The first is from Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff to U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and previously led the Obama administration's Race to the Top program:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.
The second is from Rupert Murdoch:
When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching. Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.
In her post Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits From U.S. K-12 Market, Stephanie Simon writes:
Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into -- fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast. 
Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They're pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.
Watch this one-minute commercial:

Look, I'm the first in line to talk about how cool technology is and how it's improved my teaching and learning. However, there are a couple lines from the video's script that concern me. At 0:24, a little girl says, "If you have this (tablet), you don't need this (brick and mortar school)". Then at 0:27, a little boy looks around the classroom and says "this place is dumb". And then at the end, two boys agree that they should "get out of here".

I'm all for a learning revolution but not like this.

This is scary.

I'm the first to criticize elements of traditional schooling but you don't fix public education by destroying it, abandoning it or throwing it to the free market.

You'll notice that the video features children sitting in what looks like a college or university classroom. Can you see how the video implicitly and explicitly undermines both K-12 and post secondary education? Would this video be as successful if they showed the same children in their developmentally appropriate classrooms and playgrounds while saying "this place is dumb, let's get out of here"?

It's ironic that "this place is dumb, let's get out of here" is precisely what children tend to say when they enrol in virtual classrooms that make those smart and bright computers and tablets the end rather than a means to an education. Simone Harris writes:
Online or virtual schools typically have high withdrawal rates, and that’s not surprising. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It must be very tempting to drop out of a “school” when there are no human beings there in person to make you feel connected to a real community, no gym, no playground, no student art on the walls, and no teacher to get to know you, to care, to see who you are and who you might one day become. 
The bitter irony is that these online schools are marketed to English learners who need the exact opposite of isolation, who benefit most from cooperative strategies in natural, not virtual, settings. 
Or they are preposterously promoted as beneficial to low income students as though it were a good thing to get education at a discount, off the rack. As Diane Ravitch warns of the educational dystopia that is fast gaining on reality, “the poor will get computers and the rich will get computers and teachers.”
Public education is not a business and it's not a private venture -- it's a public good. I have no doubt that some very crafty entrepreneurs will profit from all this but I'm not convinced that our children and our society will.

It's one thing to suggest that students should be encouraged to become entrepreneurial but it is quite another to unleash entrepreneurs to profit off of children and public education.

Like democracy, public education is reserved only for those who are willing to fight for it.

Are you fighting for either?


  1. I think it is an interesting concept that a revolution would be something easy and not fraught with "deaths" and "injuries" to a pedagogy that has long since past its prime.

    And while I certainly do feel for those who cling to bygone days; a revolution by definition implies a fundamental change in power. They aren't clean or pretty and typically do create wide spread havoc for a period of time.

    I disagree that privatization is wrong, or that it is happening to soon. If districts were making good choices, and administration was empowered to let "non-batting" team members go and not fall to bent knee in-front of the all-powerful unions perhaps we would see the change we need.

    By privatizing education we are providing a competition base. This base will empower district administrators to fix problems that they can't fix by employing more skilled staff. Not because there are not more highly skilled staff available, but because of union pressure to continually employee even the WORST of teachers. Why? Would you keep quarterback that can't catch? Would you allow someone in the private sector to verbally abuse fellow employees or clients? No. This IS what we have today.

    Unions had a place, prior to the federal minimum wage, prior to a time when government itself was actively engaged in the workforce. Now, particularly in education, teachers have convinced themselves that by paying monthly dues somehow they are ensuring the future. All you have to do is look to the private sector and see that it’s not true.

    Jobs in the private sector have a higher pay scale and highly competitive work force. The demand to be the best is constant. This is the future I see for education, but it won't happen while conglomerations of lobbyist argue for the teachers’ rights to do what? Perform poorly and keep their jobs?

    Is anyone offended yet? Well, so am I! I am offended by the state of education. There was a time when teachers and students knew how to go into a classroom together and embark on an adventure. An adventure which required trust, intelligence, and commitment by both student and teacher. There are many amazing teachers making this choice still today - but there are an equal number making different choices and hiding behind the protection of tenure.

    My daughter turned to me last year and said, school is like strapping on a seat-belt and going for a long, boring car ride. Was I alarmed? Yes. Was I surprised? No. Fortunately, I am among the parents who can choose different. So together she and I sat down looked at all the “big business" curriculum and some of the smaller entities, and opted virtual. It’s still public education, and it’s costing the tax payers less than it would for my daughter to be in "bricks and mortar".

    So I say bring on the revolution! If a child is saying, "I should get out of here"... well perhaps the school SHOULD be saying "oh s##@", perhaps "oh s#%@" is exactly what we need to drive change into our educational system. It’s not going to be pretty, but it is going to change and the change is going to affect every single part of our countries future.

    Wearing the other color coat...sorry.

    1. After listening to Dianne Ravitch's address to the teachers union , I can appreciate the vital role unions are playing in trying to save public education against the destructive forces of politicians, government and business. When education is just about the end product -test scores , and this is how a business man and politician perceives education then competition, test-prep schools , merit pay etc makes sense. Competition and the resulting test –prep teaching approach does not get rid of bad teachers but makes all teachers bad.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Change for the sake of change is no better than tradition for the sake of tradition.

    To blame teacher unions or claim that unions are irrelevant today is to place a disproportionate amount of faith in the competitive free market. Handing public education over to the architects of the 2008 Recession seems irresponsible and wreckless.

    I know there are massive problems with traditional schooling. I hear you and I stand with you. Can we find a better way of providing our children with the schools our children deserve?

    1. "Wreckless" is a cracking typo.

      On a more serious note, this is another great post - one that collects an important series of references that I hadn't come across before.

      To people like Kerry Frank I would ask: "What's the brave new world towards which the privatisation of education might lead us? Would it be a new world, or would it be a return to the sort of society described, for instance, by Bernard Mandeville?"

      Another reference to add to your list is Sugata Mitra - another pseudo-revolutionary who has called for the closure of brick and mortar schools now that kids can access all the info they need on the internet. One thing that amazes me in cases like his is the almost complete absence of anything that looks like a pedagogy. In the bad old pre-digital days professors of education and other interested parties felt obliged to think through the purpose of education and how schools fitted into the wider process of socialisation. Now the assumption is that shiny plastic stuff connected to the internet makes all that dusty cogitation obsolete.

      My swipe at the likes of Sugata Mitra is here:

  3. In the US ...Follow the money! Who is behind call for change of 'local schools'? Is the call for Privatization coming from grassroots parents and PTA's? Is it coming from citizen complaints to their elected legislators? Is it coming from complaints to local school board officials? Answer...NO. And WHY is it happening simultaneously in a multitude of states...with 'identical' legislationbeing passed with NO public debate? If it were generic to locale, the legislation would reflect regional interest. Investigation into this 'apparently' national craze leads to legislators being fed the dictates of VERY big corporate handlers...It's Corporate control of the legislative process using GOP they claim to be promoting 'small government' and 'local grassroots'...the legislation removes control from the public and puts it into State and Corporate control... take a look...VERY DARK Money destroying public education...promoting "Freedom of Choice" over "free thought",_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers
    So yes...change is good...if it is indeed, motivated by the public. But in this case..the public is being blind-sighted..and have NO idea what has hit are educators. Only when their local school must cut back and cut programs ...only when the doors they know..Excellent school districts are under assualt and being defunded..while privateers go the name of Free enterprise, not free education. It's ALEC,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers


Follow by Email