School Choice

Turns Out Privatizing Education Is Harder Than It Looks

According to The Washington Post’s anti-education-reform columnist, Valerie Strauss, there’s a “ movement to privatize public education in America.” Unfortunately, none of us who are supposedly doing the privatizing are aware of it. We all thought we were working to give families better schools to choose from, especially those families stuck in schools that are either a bad fit individually or failing students on a mass scale. Strauss isn't alone. Just Friday, I listened to The Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook podcast where Jeff Solochek, the host, couldn’t seem to reconcile Florida’s remarkable achievements with the idea that we education-reform types are always trying to funnel money into private school systems “to debase the public education model.” But now that I know, we’ve got some serious work to do. I think it first starts with a mindset. Starting tomorrow, I need to wake up every morning thinking about how I can “funnel more money into private school systems.” I mean, talk about a lack of focus. Here I am starting work each day with the words at the top of my chalkboard, “How can I get more people to care about improving public schools?” My focus has been all wrong, but that will have to change. With that in mind, if we want the benefits of privatizing schools, which must be gobs and gobs of money, we should all stop working for nonprofits that run the majority of charter schools and for the nonprofits that exist to advocate for school choice. And those massive philanthropy organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation and a half dozen others should stop spending so many millions to fund these organizations working under the guise of trying to improve schools and help kids who need it most. They must be idiots if they think they’re going to get rich by giving away millions to the public school system. Another big change? We should make sure schools get a lot more secretive about how they’re performing. I mean, what’s the point in being “private” if charter school grades and rankings by the state are published right along with all the public schools, especially if we’re trying to divert money away from the classrooms and into our pockets (or some rich person’s pockets)? How can charter schools expect to evade state accountability systems if they have to take the same standardized tests and make the results public? Another problem with all of us trying to privatize is that we’re working way too slow. Charter schools only account for educating about 6 percent of all students across the country. Add in the 3.5 percent from school voucher students and we get up to about 9.5 percent. We’ve been at this for more than two decades. If we’re serious about privatizing our public education system we clearly need to work a lot harder. As far as those pesky civil rights concerns, well, everyone knows the law can’t touch private organizations. Civil rights can only be enforced in traditional public schools. Wait. I’m getting word… Oh, civil rights apply to everyone? OK. Got it. So the law is designed to protect students in private schools too? And public charter schools? Wow, literally all schools. OK. I know the idea of privatizing can be scary. I mean, we’ve all seen “The Lorax,” and a hundred other movies where the evil company lays waste to nature and goodness in its effort to crush the folksy mom-and-pop hero and some cute animals. If that stuff wasn’t true it wouldn’t be in the movies. But I suppose I have to accept who I am, as defined by the defenders of the status quo. I’m not a public-education advocate, I’m a privatizer. I don’t care about kids. I care about making evil companies rich at the expense of the little guy who, for all these years, I thought I was fighting for.
Lane Wright
Lane Wright is Director of Strategic Growth at Education Post. In addition to this role, he tells stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida’s governor, and he’s got a knack for breaking down complex education reform policy issues into easy-to-understand ...

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