Privatizing public education

With the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, there is great concern over a movement to privatize public education as she and the president-elect are ardent supporters of charters, vouchers, and school choice.  So what’s behind the privatization movement?  The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) recently released a brief on privatizing vs. public funding of schools, comparing approaches from Finland, Sweden, Canada, and the US.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-10-08-34-amThose who support privatization allow for outsourcing of schools to for-profit and non-profit organizations. They believe competition will provide students with a greater choice which equates to an increase in quality.

Supporters of public investment in education have a foundation in equity, quality, community, and unity.  “Democratic decision-making ensures a public voice…from voters to teacher unions and parents involved in policy-making” (Adamson, 2016). You can read the brief in its entirety here.

Adamson (2016) wrote, “The push for privatization in the U.S. comes from many sources—the business community, testing and technology companies, some philanthropic organizations…”

The differences in how the countries in the study addressed concerns over public education are striking, as are the results. Some countries (Finland, e.g.) invest in teacher professional development and on equity of student outcomes, while others use a market-based, privatization approach (US-think charters and vouchers) to education (Adamson, 2016). In a comparison of the global educational reform movement (as seen in the US) compared to the Finnish model, striking differences are evident (Adamson, 2016):

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 8.36.34 AM.png

In the United States for example, Massachusetts has had the smallest investment in privatization, and the results have been consistent gains in achievement test scores (see how your state fared here).

Of the many conclusions which can be drawn from this study, an equity based process-which focuses on teacher professionalization is often accompanied by high educational outcomes (Adamson, 2016). Researchers at SCOPE made policy recommendations which include:

  • Investments in equity
  • Investments in the well-being of children
  • Investments in community engagement
  • Investments in professional capacity
  • Investments is assessments of and for learning

A focus on teachers as professionals, whole-child development and personalized learning is a solid approach to education and supported by empirical research. Test-based accountability, standardized learning (as in Common Core Standards), school choice and competition as national or local policy are not well-supported by research.

The idea of privatizing public education is  another reason why Betsy DeVos as head of the DOE is cause for concern.  There is more research to support why this won’t work, than the contrary. Why replicate an unsuccessful model? How about we learn from what others are doing well and replicate that?

“Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world”  ~ Nelson Mandela

These are my reflections for today.

Merry Christmas – Happy Hanukkah



Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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